Becoming a Parenting Team

Any parent knows that one of the biggest challenges of being a parent in a two parent family is working with the other parent.  You can be in agreement about décor, finances and many other things, but it is likely that parenthood will bring out differences that you were only dimly aware of before.  Add to that a challenging or quirky child, and the differences can quickly become polarized so that you feel that one parent is too strict and the other is too lenient.  In all likelihood both parents hold part of the solution.

Any two people have definitely had different experiences growing up.  All of us had parents who did things we pledged we would never repeat.  At the same time there might be aspects of your parents’ practices that you feel were wise, and you would like to repeat.   Whether in trying to do as well as our parents did, or in trying not to repeat their mistakes, each of us can become rigid in our own approach.

Add to the mix a quirky child who might not be much like the way you were as a child, and the situation is primed for conflict.  There is no doubt that the situation challenges parents to negotiate and treat each other with respect under pressure.

Children learn very quickly where the differences are and how to exploit them.  I tell parents that any child worth her salt will sort this out and aim for the space in between the parents.  The child feels a great deal of control in this situation, too much control, and this contributes to a feeling of careening near the edge when it goes unaddressed.  Especially if parents disagree in front of the child, the child then feels empowered to ignore limits set by one parent.  The child then feels entitled to provoke that parent.  This is often when parents seek outside help.

The situation requires a kind of respectful listening and negotiation that will in the long run be good modeling for the child.

What to do?

  1. Agree to address the differences in a respectful way out of your child’s earshot.
  2. Listen to your partner.  Perhaps there is something useful in what she or he has to say.
  3. If you cannot come to agreement, seek outside help.
  4. Agree to try an approach and come back to it later to see how it is working.
  5. When either parent is in an unsure situation with a child (for instance, “Can we rent an R rated movie?” when you and your partner haven’t developed a clear policy on this), feel free to say, “I need to talk to Dad (Mom) about this.  We’ll get back to you.”  It is OK to let the child know you don’t know.

Children feel safer when they know their parents are working together, and this alone helps them maintain better behavior.  They are no longer “careening out of control” wondering who will put the brakes on and when.

Good luck with this challenging but rewarding endeavor in raising quirky kids.

 

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Photo Credit: Scott Ableman on Flickr

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