Monday, June 14, 2010

Divide and conquer?

What do you do  when the way you want to support/discipline your child contradicts  the way your partner or spouse feels about the situation?  How do you keep a “united front” while being fair to your kid? How do you discuss the matter without making your child feel that she/he can “divide and conquer”?

As a mom of a strong-willed “tween” my life is full of opportunities for me to prepare relevant material for my audionblogs and written articles . What do I mean by that? Just the other day, I came face to face with the enemy#1  of the proverbial “united front”: I totally, utterly and completely disagreed with my husband on how to handle a situation with our daughter. It wasn’t anything particularly  complicated and in my opinion it wasn’t necessarily something that either one of us is probably going to remember in a few years. Well, it’s now on paper, out on cyberspace, so I guess it is NOT going to be completely forgotten!

Wondering what my daughter’s request was? All she wanted was to sleep on the guest bedroom as a fun thing to do and my beloved husband was concerned she would make it a mess.  It doesn’t seem like  a big issue when you look at it for what it was: a simple request from an 8-year-old trying to spice things up.

I used to believe that no matter what, my husband and I had to be on the same page on every single opinion, decision and action we took with our daughter. Isn’t that what we hear time and time again? But the truth is that each one of us is potentially parenting in a moment of anxiety, frustration and anger, most likely from the place we were parented. For many of us, that means we will be reacting instead of responding to our kids. In this particular case, my buttons were not pushed. I didn’t feel that our child was trying to “get away with something”. I didn’t feel she was trying to “outsmart” me and get her way. My husband on the other hand, was triggered and did feel that if we let her go ahead and do what she wanted, we were indeed raising a juvenile delinquent.

At that moment when my husband was feeling anxious and upset, he subscribed to the same “parenting myth” that many of the families I work with subscribed to: It is our job as parents to get our children to think, feel, and especially, behave the right way. It’s our job to get our children to be good and to obey us. Isn’t that what all those books tell us we ultimate want?

I have discovered throughout this amazing path of parenting, that our kids share our DNA but they truly don’t have to share our thoughts, our feelings or even our beliefs. I know, the first thing I hear from parents  when I tell them this is “Doesn’t that sound a bit too permissive, out of control and irresponsible?” My answer always is “Do you remember the first time you realized that your child had a mind of her own? Well, part of growing up means that our kids  will make different choices than me want them to make. They will have their biggest tantrum in front of your dissaproving in-laws. They will scream at the top of their lungs at the restaurant while everyone watches you. They will wait until the last minute to do their homework. The truth is you can’t make ANYONE do anything and that includes your kids. What you do have the power to do is to keep your cool and make sure that appropriate consequences are in place to respond (not react) when your child makes a decision that is in fact, in detriment of their growth or the well-being of their family.

We don’t want to kill their decision making spirit, right? We want to teach them that for every action there’s a ‘reaction’ and that what they choose has an effect on the world.  We want them to prepare them for the “real world”.

Going back to my family story, when our daughter in defiance told my husband  that it wasn’t fair for him to tell her she couldn’t sleep in the guess bedroom  as long as she kept it clean, his anxiety, his worry, his own need to control got triggered. I disagreed with him but instead of siding with my daughter (which I very much wanted to do) I decided to take a deep breath and call a time out. I told her that her daddy and I couldn’t agree on whether we wanted to let her sleep in the guest bedroom or not.. I also shared with her that even though I didn’t see anything wrong with it and her daddy did, my opinion was by no means more valid than daddy’s. So, since we couldn’t agree, we were just going to take a little while to think about it and get back with her the next day.

And within an hour or two, my sweet husband told her that after taking some time to think about it, he realized that as long as it was understood that the expectation was that she’d stay there for a couple of days and was to keep the room clean, he was truly OK with her wishes. He had time to “cool” off and see our decision as harmless. He really was joining me in making his decision from a  cool, calm and connected place.

See, here’s the thing: we both want the best for our daughter and we will not always see things the same way. As long as neither one of us is acting from the place where our buttons have been pushed and we are offering a knee-jerk reaction, we don’t have to worry so much about being a “united, single-minded front”. We are two different people who love this child very much.

So the story goes. Do I have this technique of keeping cool totally under my belt? It’s a work in progress. But I have seen the beauty and the power of it, for all the relationships in my life!

How do you deal with your differences of opinions, philosophies and techniques with the people in your life? Your mother-in-law? Your mother? Your best friend? Your partner/husband? As always, I’d love to hear your opinions!

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