What is backing each other up?

Backing your partner up is about being consistent in your approach to parenting and family management. It’s about you and your partner agreeing with each other’s decisions in front of your children, and doing what you can to support each other in day-to-day family life.

Why backing each other is important

Backing each other up has benefits for you and your children.

If you and your partner are consistent when it comes to family rules, routines and expectations of behaviour, you’ll find it much easier to manage your children’s behaviour. That’s because your children get the same messages from both of you about how you expect them to behave and how your family’s routines work.

Also, a consistent approach to parenting gives your children a sense of security and safety. This is good for your children’s development and can help them cope in stressful times or during difficult stages of development, like puberty.

And backing each other up shows your children that people can support and respect each other, even when they don’t agree. This helps to protects children from the downsides of any conflict as well as helping them to develop important life skills.

Tips for backing each other up

Plan your family rules

  • Talk with your partner and agree in advance on some basic family rules – for example, you might have rules about safety, manners, politeness, daily routines and respect for each other.
  • Decide together how you’ll encourage good behaviour, including how you’ll use praise and rewards.
  • Decide together on what consequences you’ll use for misbehaviour.

Back up your partner’s decisions

  • If an issue comes up with your children – for example, inappropriate behaviour or a request for something unusual – check whether your partner has already dealt with the situation before you do anything. Try to support any decisions your partner has made.
  • If you don’t like your partner’s decisions or approach to a situation, wait until it’s over and discuss it later.
  • If a new situation or issue comes up for you, let your partner know how you dealt with it.
  • If you’re unsure of how to deal with a new situation, have a chat with your partner about it. You can say to your child, ‘I’d like to talk about this with Mum/Dad before I decide. We’ll get back to you’.

Avoid stepping in

  • If your partner seems to be having trouble handling a parenting situation, try not to step in and take control. Ask whether your partner would like you to help.
  • Look for other ways to help in problem situations. It might be that you can look after other children or do some household chores while your partner handles things.

Debrief problem situations

  • If you or your partner has had a parenting problem – for example, a toddler tantrum or teenage disrespect – make time to talk about it when it’s over and everyone is calm.
  • Talk through how you and your partner handled the problem, and what worked and what didn’t. Praise your partner for anything that he or she did well.
  • If you have suggestions for doing things differently, try making only one suggestion. You’ll have other opportunities to make other suggestions. Write them down if you think you might forget.
  • Have your discussion away from the children.

Support each other in practical ways

  • Share tasks like doing the washing up, making school lunches, putting children to bed and so on. Plan ahead so you can both take turns.
  • Keep an eye out for times when your partner is tired or stressed. At these times you can offer extra practical help or give extra positive feedback. For example, you could say, ‘I appreciate how much you do to look after our family’.

Have regular catch-ups even when things are going well

  • Make a regular time to talk about your children and parenting. This gives you the chance to plan approaches and ideas for dealing with future challenges.
  • If you have to change the time of your regular catch-up, set up another time.
  • Focus on sharing the good things about parenting and your children as well as any problems.
With all the focus on parenting and looking after your children, it can be easy to forget about looking after your relationship with your partner. It pays to make some ‘couple time’ for yourselves, even if it’s just a quiet cup of tea together after the children have gone to bed.

Getting help

Relationship counsellors can help you identify what’s causing conflict between you and come up with practical solutions. It can help to speak to a relationship counsellor if you and your partner:

  • are having trouble backing each other up
  • are fighting a lot
  • feel that you’re losing respect for each other.

It’s good if you and your partner can see a counsellor together. But if your partner doesn’t want to go, it’s still worth seeking help, even if it’s by yourself.

If you’re in a relationship that involves family violence, call a helplineseek support and do whatever you need to do to ensure your safety and your children’s safety.