By Jacki Post Ashkin, LCSW-C
Since no two people are going to see eye-to-eye on everything all of the time, it is inevitable that sooner or later parents will find themselves having very different opinions about how to handle a situation with their child. Whether it is divergent ideas about what form of discipline fits a particular offense or whether to say yes to your child’s request, sometimes you and your partner in this long, complicated parenting journey may find yourselves staring at each other from across a great divide.
For the wellbeing of your kids – now and in the future – what is important is to bridge that gap and unite as parents. This is true whether you live in the same home or are co-parenting from different households. Why? First, because children can sense when their parents aren’t in sync and that can make their world feel like a pretty unstable and unpredictable place. Second, kids learn to take advantage of the cracks. They may pit parent against parent to divert attention from themselves or manipulate a situation to get what they want. This doesn’t build the problem solving or relationship skills we know they need to be happy people.
Next time your parenting perspectives don’t appear to align, remember these guidelines:
- Don’t Overrule or Undermine. It is important for children to see their parents as united. Setting up a “good cop/bad cop” scenario can cause resentment and alienation between partners and between a child and a parent. If the parents don’t respect and support each other, especially in front of their children, you are teaching a child it is okay to be disrespectful.
- Move it Off-Stage. Of course, there may be times you don’t agree with the decision or approach your partner took. The place to have a conversation about that is in private, out of your children’s earshot. Resolving differences is a very intimate and important part of your relationship and children do not belong in the middle.
- Take a Beat, Let Cool Heads Prevail. We are all human. Sometimes our buttons get pushed and we just…react. It isn’t pretty and we’re usually not proud of letting our tempers flare, but it happens. If your child was having a tantrum, you’d put the little tike in time out. Well, what’s good for the goose…. If your voices are raised or you are talking over each other, neither one of you can listen to the other’s point of view. Call for a break and set a time to come back together – not to continue arguing your points, but to problem solve and reach a mutual decision.
- Know When to Fold. For whatever reason, there are times when one partner feels much more passionately about an issue than the other. Don’t make this about winning and losing, or the only thing you will lose is your relationship. If you don’t feel as strongly about the outcome this time, honor your partner’s wishes. At some point, the shoe will be on the other foot.
- Speak with One Voice. Present decisions as “we” to maintain a cohesive front. Even if after discussing it further, you opt to change the original ‘ruling,’ tell your child that after talking it over more, “we decided….”
Remember, children learn their earliest lessons by watching their parents. Like it or not, they notice everything, even if we want to fool ourselves into thinking they are blissfully unaware. When we show them a mutually respectful partnership, we are helping them develop healthy relationship patterns and meaningful connections with others, now and in the future.
Jacki Ashkin, LCSW-C is Director of Community Connections at Jewish Community Services.
Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, Jewish Community Services offers a variety of programs, services, and supports for parents and families with children of all ages. Learn more at jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.