Do you ever wonder how your parenting style turned from "parent team" into "parent competition?" Picture this: your 8-year-old wants to go see the new PG-13 movie that you know will be too graphic for him. You say "no" and at the same time your spouse says, "Sure." You look at her in disbelief. You begin to argue with your wife while your son not only watches, but jumps in on her side with his own opinions. How often do you find yourself arguing for your way in front of your kids?
When it comes down to these parenting battles, how do you come to a decision, preferably without arguing, definitely without arguing in front of your children, and both feel validated and empowered in your parenting?
The first thing you should realize is that you really are a team. You each have strengths and weakness that, ideally, play off each other. Neither of you is the coach. You are both players on the team. If the quarterback is getting ready to "go long" and the running back thinks they've planned a hand-off, the team is in trouble. It's time for you and your wife to get on the same page and become a parenting team.
Learning teamwork does not happen in the heat of the moment, with your child looking on and pushing for his way - just as football teams don't learn new plays in the middle of the Superbowl. Conscious teamwork means that there is discussion and practice, planning and trying on new ways of being. This parenting thing is a lot of work and in order to do it well, it must be done thoroughly. The key is to look at your individual parenting patterns, find out why you parent the way you do, and then look at what is really best for each of your individual children.
So, if you find yourself in a cycle of arguing about competing parenting styles, set some time aside to sit down and do the following exercises together. It may be more fun than you think and I know that you can turn your parenting conflicts into parenting successes with a little bit of work.
Exercises for Building the Parenting Team:
1.) As a couple, write down two or three real-life examples of situations where your parenting styles have differed and you have found yourselves arguing (or not arguing and simply feeling resentful and disempowered) about a parenting issue.
2.) For each example, write down each parent's "default mode" of parenting. Maybe one parent is just more permissive and one tends to be more protective. Perhaps one resorts to anger and yelling where the other resorts to passive-aggressive manipulation to get his or her way. What is your default parenting style?
3.) Next, have each parent examine his or her default style. This is an individual exercise. Look at how you were parented and how each of your relationships with your parents molded you as a parent. If you have a difficult time seeing the parenting patterns that you inherited, you might want to ask a sibling or even a close friend for some insight. If you're still stuck, ask your spouse if he or she has any suggestions. Sometimes, we get so mired in our family "stuff" that we need fresh eyes to see it.
4.) Now go back to the examples that you listed. Look at how your default parenting style and the ways you were parented played into the interaction. This is not about right or wrong. This is about noticing your patterns. There is no right or wrong way to parent: there are good techniques and unhealthy patterns. Our job is to learn the former and release the latter. Here are some real-life examples:
a. Mom realizes that she has a tendency to be more lenient because she was raised in a family that was very strict and growing up she missed out on a lot of fun with her friends.
b. Dad realizes that he has a tendency to be stricter because he grew up in a chaotic home with few boundaries and he wants to give his children a more structured home life.
c. Mom realizes that she a tendency to want to be the kid's friend instead of being their parent because she can avoid discipline that way. She had little discipline from her parents and doesn't really know how to go about it.
d. Dad realizes that his parents were very strict about the kinds of movies he saw and the music he listened to and that he is carrying that pattern forward unconsciously.
5.) Now that you can see your patterns and how they play into parenting challenges, go back to your examples and make some decisions. Take the movie example: Once dad realizes that he's bringing forward a parenting pattern, he can decide whether it really works for him or not. When we find unconscious parenting patterns, we have the choice to let them go or to continue with the pattern. The question to ask is does this pattern work for my child? So, with the movie, dad thinks that this pattern really does work. His child is prone to nightmares and he wants to shield him from unhealthy mental influences. At the same time, mom realizes that bringing forward the pattern of a lack of discipline might not work for this child. She realizes that as he grows up, he's becoming more demanding and that she needs healthier boundaries and that it is time to learn how to be a parent, not a friend. (Remember, your children have lots of friends, hopefully friends of all ages. You, however, are their only mom or dad and you must fulfill that role for them!)
So what happens if you guys do all of this work and you still find yourselves at loggerheads about a parenting issue? If you are being authentic and humble, that won't really happen. When you are able to step back and let go of your patterns and your expectations, it becomes easy to see what is best for your child. Remember, it's not about getting your way; it's about raising healthy, empowered children. All of these little interactions build up to create your family's dynamic. The more of this work that you can do in an advance of these confrontations, the more peaceful and balanced your home life will be. And, the happier your children will be.