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Parenting from the Same Page

Sometimes in the throes of a negotiation (or argument), you start to realize that you might be able to live with some difference in parenting style. Ask yourself some questions: Is it that big a deal? Is it really harming my kids? Is it worth straining my marriage or stressing myself out? Seemingly opposing practices might in fact be complementary, such as how being highly nurturing to a child promotes independence, rather than dependence, by giving her the sense of a safe base from which she can explore. Maybe it's all right for one parent to put a higher priority on something than the other parent does - like being more zealous about saying "please" and "thank you" - as long as you don't undermine each other: It's okay that I don't care about this as much as you do, but I won't get in your way, and I'll support you when I can. Different approaches can often coexist; its not the end of the world if the kids know that one parent is a softer touch for a cookie.

Another way to live with differences in parenting is to agree that each partner has veto power if he or she feels strongly about an issue, such as risks to a child's safety. Of course, no one should abuse the veto, and you can take back that power if it gets out of hand.

If important conflicts remain, be willing to make a deal. Consider offering a compromise, or budging on one of your priorities if he gives in on one of his. For example, you could agree for your values to rule in one area while his prevail in another: I'll loosen up about what the kids wear if you promise to be stricter about bedtimes. Or find out what parts of the total job he might prefer, and see if it works for you to do other ones.

Try to anticipate potential problems and then presolve them. It does not put a hex on your plans to imagine how they might go awry.

Finally, it could make a lot of sense to help him to give you what you want. For example, maybe he could use a little coaching on a particular skill or an occasional reminder. But sometimes this can be hard: You might feel too worn out, or sick and tired of prodding him. Or perhaps a young part within you feels disappointed in the care she received as a child and yearns for a partner who knows without saying what she needs. Yet you only help yourself when you ask yourself: What could I do that would enable him to give me what I'm asking for?

6. Make a commitment. When there is a clear understanding of what you and your partner are going to do, check your gut feeling. Do you and he really think this is going to happen? Or are you kidding yourselves? If your plan feels solid, treat it as a personal commitment and ask him to do the same. You are each giving your word, and that is not a thing to be taken lightly. Then acknowledge the process you have gone through. It's not easy to work out issues in parenting, yet you've each stuck with it.

Finally, try to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. You've probably seen some of the common methods: Not noticing it when your partner has come over to your side, continuing to fire after he has put up the white flag, remaining irritated that you had to talk about it in the first place, or shifting with hardly a breath to another issue.

Talking about misunderstandings or broken agreements. Fulfilling commitments is the basis of trust in any relationship. Nonetheless, no person manages to keep all of his or her agreements. Maintaining trust requires communicating when an agreement is broken. If you did not do what you said you would do, try to bring up the matter yourself. Say if this was a one-time event that does not reflect your true intentions. Or explain that you think the plan is unworkable and should be revised.

If it is your partner who departs from the plan, talk about it openly, since silence on your part can be taken as tacit approval. Plus, you need to know what is going on. Perhaps there was an ambiguity in the original arrangement, or maybe you misunderstood something and he actually did what he agreed to. Or it could in fact have been a broken agreement. If so, perhaps it was just a temporary lapse and he's back on track. But you may discover that you need to do some more negotiating.

Even though they can be uncomfortable to discuss, if you do not talk about misunderstandings and broken agreements, they will happen again. In particular, if your partner is often flaky or unreliable, if he does not seem willing to make the most fundamental commitment of all - I agree to keep my agreements - you've got to talk about it. You are entitled to bring a moral seriousness to the discussion, to confront broken agreements for what they are, breaches of trust that erode the foundation of any relationship. If he says something like, You can't pin me down so much, things change, a possible reply is: If you had a colleague at work who said one thing but did another as often as you do at home, how would you feel and what would you do? You would probably feel let down and frustrated, and you would tell the person that there needed to be changes in the way he or she was acting. It's the same here.

If talking together doesn't work, consider involving a professional such as a therapist or minister. Besides letting your partner know you're serious, the thought of airing dirty laundry in front of another person could be enough to prompt a change in behavior. More than once, Rick has made a first appointment with a mother for couples counseling, only to receive a second call a few days later canceling the session because. To get out of going to therapy, he started acting differently. Whatever works!

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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