Parenting kids is a challenge for most people. There are many things that make parenting such a challenge, but one of the big ones is that a couple of parents is made up of two different individuals, each with their own upbringing, values, beliefs and preferences.
If life was just smooth sailing, this would not be such a big problem, except life is bumpy sometimes and when tensions are high, things can get silly and weaken the parents’ position of authority.
Even when things are pretty quiet, the ever-so-sensitive kids can detect notes of disagreement between their parents and immediately try to use them to their advantage (little buggers). Parents who are too preoccupied to notice end up facing the “But Mom/Dad said” and looking pretty stupid being caught unprepared.
It can get even worse when the kids get you started on something important for the first time and you get carried away and fight it out in front of the kids, all the while creating confusion, lack of trust and sometimes even fear. After all, if Mom and Dad do not agree, what am I (the kids) going to do? And if Mom and Dad feel this is so important to decide one way or the other, I (the kid) now have more pressure to make up my mind, but which way should I choose? Oh, and I hope Mom and Dad don’t break up because of me…
So what do you do?
Well, just like every project, article or presentation, this has 3 parts: awareness, planning and troubleshooting.
Both partners must acknowledge they are different. If you have not done so already, tell each other a little about yourselves, only this time, talk about your childhood, how your parents raised you and describe how you would like to live your life and raise your own kids.
Keep track of noticeable differences. Writing them down is best. Make a separate list of the things you both agree on.
Go over posts on this blog about communication styles and figure out what kinds of communication you prefer. Read the post about love languages and figure out the best ways you like to give and receive affection.
You are different. Get it?
And that is OK. You can both be right at the same time and still disagree. That is OK too. Get it?
Now that you know you are different, it is time to start planning your life ahead. If you have been married (living together) for some time (years?) already, that is OK. It is never too late to make positive changes in your life. Home harmony is a good thing.
Go over your list of different personal preferences and score each item as one of:
- Must – something you consider necessary and will fight for
- Must Not – something you consider wrong and will fight against
- Don’t Care – something you will be OK with or without
Say you really (really) like to drink alcohol and your partner drinks from time to time. Drinking would then be a “Must” for you and a “Don’t Care” for your partner. No problem there. When in conflict, your partner will probably let you do what you like. Scratch this off the list of disagreements and write it on the agreements list.
Say your partner grew up hating to wash dishes (Must Not) and you do not mind it (Don’t Care). No problem either. You can wash the dishes and he/she can have other responsibilities. Scratch this off the list too. Write it on the agreements list instead.
But what if you want to raise your joint kids with a total focus on independence, to the point where you will let them fail, as long as they stay safe, while your partner wants them only to experience the good side of life, even if it means doing things for them every day and managing every aspect of their routine so they never forget or get punished?
This one you should keep on the disagreement list.
When you have gone all the way down the list, possibly adding things that come to your mind along the way, you should now be left with a small number of things you disagree on and a large number of agreements.
Most things, if not all, are not matters of life and death and have both pros and cons. Dig deeper into your disagreements and consider them as personal preferences, realizing there is no such thing as an absolute rule that applies to everyone. Find out the reasons you are so passionate about each item.
If you find a way to bridge the gap and reach a parental consensus – great. If not, find a way to live with your disagreements – alternating, doing things separately or even presenting two comfortable alternatives to your kids, depending on the issue.
For example, my dad liked to smoke and my mom did not like it, so he smoked less and only outside the house. I really like to play African drums and Ronit can only take so much noise in one hit, so I play away from home, but the kids know we prefer different things. You can present not washing the dishes as “just the way we share the housework” (of course, you will be doing other chores) and occasionally wash some dishes in full view of the kids to demonstrate that this is only a (say it with me) personal preference.
Good, so now you have ways to deal with everything, right?
Nobody I know can tell everything about the future, not even the best professional fortune tellers. So even with the longest and most comprehensive list of parenting agreements, you will not be able to cover absolutely everything your kids might throw at you later. Never thought of MySpace or Facebook a few years ago, did you?
So what do you and your partner do when you hit the unexpected?
Well, now that you have your list, it is much easier to recognize what is not on it. This way, if your kid wants to open an account on the new cool kids’ whatchamacallit and it is the first time you have every heard about it, stop!
In the most nonchalant way, ask the young person, “Have you asked Mom/Dad about this already?”
If they have not, consult your partner, get an agreement and then communicate to the youngster. Parents 1, kids nil. Life goes on as it should.
If they have, not so good (your partner should have consulted you first, right?). ask, “And what did Mom/Dad say?”
Guess what? There is only ever one answer to this one, because otherwise, your kid would already be logging into whatchamacallit.com!
Since your partner has already said no, your only option is to support him/her! No, it does not matter what you think. Not at this point. At this point, you give your partner full and unconditional support by saying, “Well, in that case, you can’t”.
Later on and in private, raise this with your partner. Start gently, because there may be a good reason for his/her on-the-spot decision, but make sure the expectation is for a parental forum discussion before new decisions are rendered. If you dispute the decision, you may be able to change it through a discussion, but the parent who issues the original decision should be the one telling the kids it has been changed.
Once again, present matters as personal preference, identify if there is a Must or a Must Not involved and if there are strong feelings on both sides, go deeper into the details and, worst case, agree to comfortably disagree.
This way, you and your partner can keep adding agreements to your list and handle previously-unknown situations well, while your kids grow to be confident, considerate and happy human beings.
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