Tag Conflict

We Disagree. Now what?! (Part 2)

alienation, long termIn last week’s entry I discussed how parents who live together might handle parenting disputes. This week I’ll tackle the same issue for parents who live apart.

As I discussed last week, when parents who live together argue frequently about parenting it can be a sign that the relationship’s maintenance is poor. In the case of parents who don’t live together, frequent conflict with the other parent can be a sign that a peaceful co-existence, post separation or divorce, has not been established, or has been undone. For tips on how to establish this peace, please enter the search term “parenting through divorce” in the search bar above. Moreover, all of the tips from last week’s blog (i.e., Part 1) would be useful in this context as well.

Here are 10 additional suggestions:

  • Agree that when kids are at each residence, and assuming that significant risk of harm has been ruled out, each parent at that residence is in charge. It’s often best for the non-residential birth parent to just stay out of it.
  • Try to have a regular meeting with the other parent (e.g., coffee, lunch) where you review what’s going on with your kid(s). Open communication can stave off many kinds of problems.
  • Do everything you can to stay out of court. In my clinical experience, divorce graphic2everyone loses something when a gavel settles a parental dispute. (I’ve seen many instances when one parent was the official “winner” in court but didn’t factor in the ongoing costs of the other parent feeling resentful, anger or hurt secondary to the outcome.)
  • When asking for the other parent to contribute financially to something, and referencing matters that aren’t a part of the initial divorce decree, try to make it a request that isn’t, and doesn’t sound even remotely like, a demand or a manipulation. (And, even when it’s in the decree, niceness goes a long way.)
  • Try avoid getting into the “s/he was a jerk to me so I’m not going to be nice” spiral. High road life is hard enough without making residence embattled young couplethere dependent on someone else’s choices.
  • Avoid communicating when you are suffering from transient brain dysfunction (e.g., you’re angry, have consumed alcohol, are highly stressed). Moreover, avoid name-calling or bringing up old business. If in doubt about this, ask yourself how well these strategies have worked in the past.
  • Point out what you’re grateful for and suggest that your kids do the same.
  • Avoid letting your current significant other get into the mix, unless you’re very confident that s/he will only have a calming effect.
  • Unless you have a fabulously cooperative relationship with the other parent, try to avoid using the other parent as a messenger of some third party’s important communication regarding your child. When teachers, physicians, coaches and so forth have something important yes i canto share regarding your child, try to be a part of the original communication; if you can’t be, ask if that third party would be willing to speak with you also. Triangles tend to be fertile soil for misunderstandings and conflict.
  • Avoid texting when a communication has a chance of being misunderstood or causing tension. Pick up the phone or wait until the aforementioned coffee or lunch.

There are a bunch of experts available to help if this gets challenging. For a referral, click here.

We Disagree. Now What?! (Part 1)

couple alienatedIt 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 family stressyour 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.
  • happy latino coupleTry 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.problemsolving
  • 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.

blocking a processSix things I would usually suggest avoid doing.

  • 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.hope sign

Bogged down? Broken down on the highway of your family life? Well, call 9-1-1.



Why Do We Get So Defensive When Our Kids Complain About Us?

combative momWe parent-lunatics, as much as we are hard on ourselves about our parenting mistakes, can be remarkably defensive when our kids come to us with a complaint about the same. The purpose of this entry is to consider possible causes for this dynamic and to suggest some coping strategies.

Possible Causes

• We love our kids to a degree that is indescribable. I suspect there is part of us that believes that if they totally got this they’d cut us more slack. And, when they don’t, we imagine they are missing how much they mean to us.

• We bust our tails in service to our kids and we (perhaps unconsciously) believe that if they truly recognized that that they’d be more often keep their complaints to themselves. It’s almost like we voluntarily paved our driveway for a neighbor (and received only a brief “thanks” for the service). But then, when we walk on our neighbor’s lawn to retrieve a newspaper, get yelled at for damaging the grass. Yeah, we’ve committed an affront. But, the scolding seems to be missing the big picture!

• We often do better than was done for us by our parents. So, we want out kids working dadto say something like “Father, I so much appreciate that you had it tougher than me when you were growing up and are putting so much effort into rising above that and selflessly and graciously giving me a better childhood.” In these moments we forget that it’s more likely the family dog will sing the Star Spangled Banner.

• Our kids are WAY more self-entitled, irrational, ungrateful and unfair in their treatment of us than the other way around. So, when they come to us with their grievances we want to take out the scales of justice and do some objective analysis.

Coping Strategies

• The first thing is to give your child permission to complain and to express anger. This is not the same thing as allowing cursing or abusive language. But, creating a household where it’s safe to express such thoughts and feelings goes a long way to promoting your child’s long-term wellness and interpersonal skills.

blocking out stimuli• We all do well to remember that our children are exactly that: children. In other words, if your child’s brain was placed into a fully grown adult’s body, and a full battery of neuroimaging and neuropsychological were tests completed, the conclusion would likely be that brain damage exists.

• Sometimes when our self-care is out of balance it’s easy to look to our children to meet our needs. This leaves us vulnerable to overreacting to complaints (i.e., the outlet for my needs being met is being challenged). It’s probably better to make a plan to get some consistent “me” or “us” (i.e., parents) time.

• Taking a deep breath and keeping things in perspective is helpful. Research suggests that our kids make less out of our conflicts than we do. When our kids come to us with lamentations about our parenting we can be more devastated, and think there is something much more wrong, than our kids do.

• Use empathy as much as possible. Just letting your kid know that you dadandsonunderstand what he or she is thinking and feeling can be very helpful. And, to be empathic with a position is not the same as to agree with it. It just lets your child know that you’ve heard and understand him or her, and that means a lot.

• This is the hardest part, but agreeing with any good points that your kid makes is very important to do. This will make it more likely that he or she won’t lie to you (i.e., what’s the good of bringing arguments to the bench if one never wins), models effective conflict resolution skills and strengthens your bond.

• Oh, and it’s probably not a good idea to expect much gratitude as long as your child has brain damage (see above). I know that’s very, very difficult given how selfless and gruelingly difficult parenting can be. But, we can always hope that this will come later, maybe after were dead, but at some point 😉

I’ll conclude by noting that the more years I get under my belt as a parent the more I have an empathic joining with one aspect of grandparenting. I CAN’T WAIT to see my kids in my shoes and to then go home to my childless residence! What’s that line about he who laughs last??

Ten Tips for When Your Teen Says, “I hate you!”

angry male hand upI remember when my eldest was in preschool and the delight we both took in being reunited at the end of each day. At the time I shared my bliss with a graduate student. This student, who had two teenagers, responded with “yeah, but wait ‘till she’s a teen.” I remember feeling nonplussed by that remark. While the available science and my clinical experience were both consistent with my grad student’s remark, I thought this would not happen to me…not only has it happened multiple times, but it has happened with both of my teenagers. And, my third child will hit adolescence in a few months, leaving me looking at want adds for oil rig work in the North Atlantic.

So, my fellow parent-lunatic, here are the things I try to do, at least when I’m acting with intention, when one of my teen says some version of “I hate you!”

Tip #1: Reflect on the resilience formula: crisis = pain + opportunity. You’re crisis opportunityfeeling the pain. Now, where is the opportunity? (My own experience is that the dosing of opportunity is usually higher than the dosing of the pain.)

Tip #2: Take a deep breath and keep things in perspective. This is a normative experience. (Those of you who have raised a teenager, and have not experienced this, should probably keep that to yourself, lest the rest of us kick you off the island!) Your teen’s brain is still developing, especially in regards to those parts that will end up defining his or her most mature self. Moreover, sometimes you hear this because you’re doing right by your teen (e.g., doing effective monitoring) and s/he will be grateful later (probably not until after your dead though).

Tip #3: Realize that yours and your teen’s experience of the conflict may be different. Research suggests that these sorts of conflicts bother we parent-lunatics more than they bother our kids. Ever have your teen go off on you and then act like zero happened a few hours later, or the next day? Our teens often look upon these conflicts as being less significant than we do.

Tip #4: Spend at least one hour a week each week doing special time. I’ve written extensively about this within this blwork-life balanceg and my parenting book. This is my top resilience promoting parenting strategy.

Tip #5: Use other wise parents as a sounding board. The three criteria I use for my sounding boards are: (a) the person is experienced and knowledgeable about the problem or issues at hand, (b) the person is willing to disagree with me and (c) the person feels kindly towards me. This discussion can help you to find your perspective and feel more confident about moving forward with your teen. Of course, if you can partner with your spouse all the better (my wife is my go-to gut check person in these instances).

Tip #6: Be selective about your psychological autopsies (i.e., following up later teen rolling eyeson what was said). A simple “I hate you!” Or, “you suck as a parent!” followed by the classic storm off and door slam, may not be worth following up on. Sometimes the gift we give our teen is allowing him or her to blow off steam without it ending up being a thing.

Tip #7: Wait until everyone’s brain is back online before doing a psychological autopsy. Sometimes your teen might say some things in the middle of one of these rants that is very hurtful or which gives you information you believe you need to follow up on. In these instances wait until you’re both calm and rested in order to proceed. This allows for everyone to have all IQ points on deck for what could be a difficult discussion.

Tip #8: When doing a psychological autopsy get your teen’s perspective first, and offer empathy (which can be done even when you disagree); stay there until your teen is vetted, unless you find yourself getting too upset (in which case you may want to stop and come back later). This can be gruelingly difficult to do, but not only will you be modeling an effective communication style, but you will be helping your teen to be more open to your perspective when it’s your turn to share.

child helpmeTip #9: Make sure this isn’t part of a larger problem. Is your teen making similar statements to teachers? Is your teen struggling in his/her social life? Are academics not going well? Does your teen routinely struggle when s/he is asked to do things s/he doesn’t feel like doing?  Is your teen’s mood often disturbed? Does your teen struggle in his/her extracurricular life? Are any of your teen’s regulatory habits disturbed (e.g., sleep)? If the answer to one or more of these questions is  “yes,” then the “I hate you” remarks may be a cry for help.

Tip #10 (readers of this blog can see this one coming a mile away): Err on the side of getting help sooner rather than later. Psychological problems are akin to medical problems in so many ways: they are nearly universal by the time a kid reaches adulthood (about 90%), most of the time they are treatable in a short period of time, they are easier to treat the earlier they are caught and, if they are left unchecked, can cause very stressful and costly consequences. However, unlike medical problems, only about 20% of youth who need evidence-based mental health care get it. Want to be among those parents who don’t make this error of omission? Just click here to get the ball rolling.

So, go forth in peace my fellow parent-lunatic. And, if you can remember exactly why we all signed up for this, would you email me? I’ve forgotten 😉

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