United States of Parenthood

How to deal with children's requests together as a couple.

Our children have learned to play us off of one another. My husband tends to be more permissive, so when I say “No” to a child about a movie, for example, he will turn around and ask his father, who will give him the okay. This happens regularly and is extremely frustrating!

There are two separate and equally important factors to consider here: how spouses treat each other and also how they treat their children.

First, it is critical in marriage for spouses to remember in all circumstances that the two have become one on the wedding day. Whether you agree or disagree with each other, your oneness in Christ must prevail for the marriage to truly embody charity. We learned early on in our marriage never to answer for one another without consulting each other first. Even for something as simple as a dinner invitation, we run it by each other before accepting; it’s our way of putting each other first, ahead of our own wants, and showing respect for one another.

Similarly, in the case of our children, if one of us learns that the other has answered “No” to a request for a movie, for instance, we would never contradict that answer to the child. Internally, I may disagree with the answer that has been given, but if I were to “override” the answer, this would have the effect of undermining my spouse’s authority as a parent. If repeated often enough, this would erode the respect the children have for that parent and make it more difficult to obey the Fourth Commandment, to honor both mother and father. It is critical that both parents are united in their answers to their children. This way, the child would never give into the temptation to manipulate a parent; it would be an exercise in futility.

But what if the two of you genuinely do disagree on the answer to a child’s request? By all means, discuss it with one another and work toward agreement. Of course, this discussion should be frank and only between the two of you until you arrive at a decision. Each spouse should respect the viewpoint of the other, and, as in all marital disagreements, the object is not for Mom to win or Dad to win, but for the family, and the marriage, to win. Which answer will best help your child to grow in virtue?

If you are still having difficulty agreeing, pray! In fact, begin the discussion with your spouse in prayer together, asking the Lord to open your minds and hearts to his wisdom and to the wisdom in your spouse. Pray to have the humility to be wrong and see things from your spouse’s point of view. This will set the tone of unity for your conversation and will help lead you to one mind. If disagreement persists, it never hurts to have the humility to seek the wisdom of a mutually respected, objective third party.

The McDonalds are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.