Let me start off by saying that parenting is a lot of work and I admire all of the single parents out there who are working every day to not only put a roof over their child's head and food in their bellies, but also giving their child the time and attention they need and taking care of all of the responsibilities of a home and a family on their own, I don't know how you do it and I give you mad props for what you do!
With that being said, most kids have two parents - whether they live together or are divorced - and those two parents need to find a way to work together in raising their children. I grew up in a home where when my dad was home he was the boss and we wouldn't dare step one toe over the line or we risked getting a serious butt whipping and the minute he was gone my mom would say do whatever he isn't here to stop you just don't tell him I let you go play or do whatever. My mom was in a hard spot because she wasn't strong enough to really stand up to him and say that he was out of line because my dad was "the head of the household" and yet she saw how unjust his discipline was and wanted to make it up to us kids, and because of this parenting dynamic there were a lot of mixed feelings and messages and a lot of resentment on everyone's parts. It was really bad with my younger brother and he is paying the consequences for that now, because the message was sent to him early on that mommy would take care of everything and ignore everything your father said, because the minute he went to work she would let him cave. He is now 18 years old, is a high school drop out, no ged, no license, no job and very little understanding about how the real world works. Believe me when I say it doesn't do your kids any good to not have mom and dad on the same side working together to raise their children.
With that being said, it is often easier said than done to get parents to agree on a set way of parenting their children. As I mentioned before we all have pasts and were raised very differently and therefore we all have different ideas on what works and what doesn't work and we all have different views on what matters the most. The key to working together is to bring those ideals to the table and really discuss them with each other and come up with a plan that works. And in order for this to really work, both parents have to be open-minded to the ideas of the other parent and respectful to each other. Just because parents are divorced it doesn't mean they cannot find a way to work together in raising their children. Here are some things that I have found work best in my relationship and hopefully they will work in yours as well.
1. What is my attitude towards my spouse? This is the number one most important aspect of any successful relationship - what is our attitude towards that person and what do we expect from them? I have friends whose husbands dictate a lot of the aspects in their life - like how much tv they can watch, whether they can go out with friends or not, how much time they can spend on the computer - and the only reason it is like that is because those friends have chosen to place their spouse and father of their children in the role of master of the house and he is the head of the house and that is all there is too it. I then have friends who refuse to be under a man's heel and therefore go to the extreme of micromanaging all of the details in their home to ensure things are done their way and their husbands don't have much to worry about except for go to work come home and eat. Then you have people like me - and I will say a majority of my friends are like this - where I look at my husband as my partner in everything, he is not above me and I am not above him. He is not smarter than me and I am not smarter than him. I look at him as a teammate whose opinions and values are just as important as mine and he knows that I will support him and I know he will support me. I never ask my husband "permission" for anything. I let him know my plans for the week, he lets me know his and if there are conflicts we work together to figure out how to make it work. My husband would never dream of telling me I wasn't allowed to do something because he wouldn't want me to do the same to him. There is a quote given by an LDS prophet that our marriage is based on and I think it is the foundation to having a good working relationship as parents, the quote is,
"Women was taken out of man - not to be trampled underfoot, but out of his side to be equal to him . . . under his arm to be perfected and near his heart, . . . to be loved." President David O. McKay
I love this quote because it really shows that we as women were not sent to men to be their slaves or their mothers, but to be their partners and if we have that attitude towards them when deciding how to raise our children and they have that attitude towards us, then things are a lot easier to figure out and compromise on than if you are not equals in your relationships.
2. How I approach the issue is key! I have a lot more knowledge about the "right" way to raise a child than my husband does because of my degree and the fact that I read more parenting books and articles than he does, but I will never approach him with a concern I have in a way that reflects I know more than he does. If I have an issue or a concern that I need to address with my spouse, it is done in a way that promotes communication and open-mindedness and encourages him to share his opinions and thoughts and together we come up with a solution. Here is how a typical parenting discussion goes in our home.
Concern: T is yelling at the kids more than I feel is necessary.
Me: Hey I feel like WE have been yelling at our kids a lot lately, in fact the other day M asked me something and then immediately covered her ears because she thought I was going to yell at her, and I really don't like that, I think it is something I need to work on to be better at, how do you think you are doing with yelling?
T: I hadn't really thought about it, but now that you mention it I have been yelling a lot lately. I just get so frustrated when they don't listen or they are bothering me.
Me: I get bothered too, I just think that there has to be a better way to express OUR frustrations without resorting to yelling, what do you think WE can do instead?
T: I don't know, I guess I can just try harder to not yell.
Me: well that is great in theory, but I really think WE need to decide now what WE are going to do instead of waiting until WE are frustrated and want to yell to try to figure it out.
T: That's a good point, well I guess instead of yelling I could . . .
And the conversation follows that path until we have come up with a plan that works for both of us. This doesn't necessarily have to be something I want T to be better at, it could be a behavior issue I notice in our kids like J only wanting to watch TV and play video games, or deciding on a bed time routine that works for both of us - are we going to read one story per kid (that's 3 stories a night) or just one story, are we going to have a bath every night or every other night? Do the kids get to have sippies and snacks in their room or is that a no no?
Notice the emphasis on we and our, by using those two words it lets him know I genuinely want his opinion and input and I view it as a joint issue and not attacking him. T definitely feels like the majority of the parenting decisions falls on my shoulders because I am with the kids more than him, but he needs to be aware of my discipline plans and my routines so that when he is home our kids lives aren't disrupted and they can't play us and so I ALWAYS include him in all parenting decisions because if he isn't willing to do something it will not be as effective as both of us doing it together.
3. Compromise is essential! I know that I will not always get the final say in a discussion about raising kids because different things are important to me than to my husband. For the most part my husband and I have the same ideals and there isn't much need for compromise but every now and then we disagree and one of us has to budge. In order for us to do that in a way that doesn't leave the other person bitter we will ALWAYS ask the other person, "why is that so important to you?" This gives me so much insight into my husband and his past and the way he thinks and vice versa and that is how we will decide on who is going to compromise, if his reason is just that he doesn't want to do it and my reason is that I have read up on it and all the research shows that children who do . . . are more likely to do . . . then I win. If it is important to him because he feels as a father it his responsibility to teach . . . then he wins. It is never that because he is the head of the house, or that I am the one with the kids all day, it is more on the importance and value to each parent.
4. Respect, respect, respect! Growing up when there was a disagreement it was UGLY, let me tell you. There were a lot of unkind things said, fists thrown, objects thrown, yelling, and just a whole lot of unhurt feelings. Then I got married and had a disagreement with my husband and I didn't know what to do! He didn't yell, he listened to my arguments, expressed his thoughts in a kind, calm voice, and we just kept talking until we came to an agreement. I was in shock and I told him I didn't know how to fight with him because he didn't fight dirty. He fought with respect and never lost his cool and I have learned to be a lot more like that. Even when I get frustrated because he isn't listening to what I am trying to say or he is misinterpreting what I am saying it is never done disrespectfully, it never turns to yelling. No matter what though I know my husband cares about my opinion and I care about his.
This post is inspired by Kristine's comment about D feeling like she bosses him and hopefully this helped. In regards to putting E to bed and you and D doing different routines maybe you could sit down with D (I know easier said than done) and approach it by saying:
K: I am really frustrated with putting E to bed because you and I are doing it differently and so she uses that against me every night. I really feel like we need to come up with a bedtime routine that we both are o.k. with, so what are things you feel like we need to every night when putting E to bed?
and then let D say what he feels is most important and why it is important to him and after he has expressed his feelings THEN acknowledge that you heard what is important before saying what you feel is important. After you and D discuss you can then sit down as a family and talk to E about what the new bedtime routine is going to be and ask her if there is anything in there that she wants to add, maybe she really does need five minutes of cuddles at the end of the day because your days are so busy. Then when it comes to bedtime and she starts fighting you can say, E remember how we all sat down and agreed that this is how we were going to get ready for bed, I remember you agreed to this and I am sorry that you are not happy about it now but this is what we as a family agreed on and that is what we are going to do.
I hope that helps and let me know how it works out!