It can be fairly stressful when parents disagree about a parenting issue. This week I will address strategies for parents who are still living together. Next week, I will address families in which the parenting occurs across two households.
The first thing to assess is how often these disagreements are occurring. If they seem to be occurring on a regular basis, I’d wonder whether this is a symptom of a poor maintenance schedule in your relationship. Couples who practice good maintenance regularly (1) have fun together, (2) have mutually enjoyed sex, (3) share what’s going on and (4) avoid going toxic in disputes. If one or more of those are off with in your relationship, consider addressing that less you continue to put out bush fires while the house is on fire.
Here are eight tips for managing the discussion once you sit down to resolve the parenting conflict:
- Try to avoid having this discussion in front of your child or letting your child triangulate you (i.e., playing you off of each other).
- Start out by recognizing the good goals that you both have for your child. No matter the context of the conflict, most parents want good things (e.g., for him to be sociable, for her to be physically fit, for him to be safe). It’s disagreement over the methods that causes the conflict. Starting out recognizing you’re on the same page regarding your goals can soften the tension and help you to understand each other better.
- Try stating your partner’s position back to him or her. You should do this from your partner’s perspective, not yours. Don’t include qualifiers, or breakdowns in your partner’s reasoning. Simply say back to your partner what you hear his or her position as being, in as kind and empathic as a form as you can. Letting your partner know that s/he is heard can promote functional next steps.
- Acknowledge any mistakes you may have made up until this point in time. Try to do this in as open and non-defensive of a way as you can. This also can facilitate openness in your partner.
- Endeavor to communicate well even if your partner doesn’t. So often when couples break down, it’s because of the tallying or counting that goes on (ie.g., “I admitted to my faults but all she did was agree without owning any of her faults”). It’s good for you and for the relationship if you can be empathic with your partner, and own your mistakes, even if your partner doesn’t reciprocate.
- Try using the problem solving technique to develop solutions you can both live with.
- Consider getting outside consultation when there is some expertise that might resolve the matter (e.g., what side effects are commonly found when a kid takes a medication, how a college might value a kid having attended a debate camp).
- If you cannot get on the same page, and barring that significant neglect or abuse would occur or continue if you did nothing, a change from the current would not normal be made unless you both agree. Said another way, changes shouldn’t normally occur unless you are both on the same page. This can make it seem like the one who doesn’t want the change has more power. But, it’s more about respecting that you both should agree before the status quo can be modified.
- Being secretive. Secret parenting suggests that there is a larger problem in the relationship.
- Deciding what to do based only on what other parents are doing; this is a source of information, yes. But, the herd sometimes strolls through minefields.
- Letting your kid beat you down from your agreed upon strategy with pestering. Want to experience more pestering? Just follow this strategy. (Note: this is different from when your child forwards new data that you and your partner hadn’t considered. In these instances, you might decide to reconvene and reconsider.)
- Not stating what you think is advisable because you’re concerned about upsetting your partner. This also suggests that there is a larger problem in the relationship (e.g., codependency).
- Bullying your partner into seeing it your way. This often comes with a long term price tag that can be most unpleasant and drastic.
- Failing to get your kid’s full perspective before making the decision. This doesn’t mean that your kid is in the room when you and your spouse hash it out. But, knowing what your kid thinks about the issues can help you to empower him or her when it’s appropriate to do so.
Bogged down? Broken down on the highway of your family life? Well, call 9-1-1.