“Dad, you smell funny and you chew your food too loudly. Not only that, but you slurp your soup,” my 12-year-old son chides my husband as we’re all sitting together at the dinner table. “Didn’t you ever learn good table manners? It’s disgusting!”
“Don’t speak to your father that way; it’s disrespectful!”
“Ah, he was just kidding. Leave him alone.”
Really? Here I am trying to defend and stand up for my husband, the man I love and admire and have chosen to spend my life with, and I am being told by him that I’m out of line. Sometimes it feels like my husband is my son’s chief public defender and I am the prosecutor. We need Judge Judy to step in!
We both want what’s best for our child. We want him to grow up to be a good person, who is happy and well-adjusted. We just sometimes have different ideas about how to get to that place. Who knew that getting on the same page could be this difficult when our goals are essentially the same? Let’s face it; parenting as a team is hard work!
What Makes Up a Parenting Team?
A parenting team is comprised of any people who are involved in raising and caring for your child. These can include, but are not limited to: grandparents, babysitters, teachers, coaches, step-parents, or anyone who shares in the decision-making for your child’s development. Team parenting requires commitment, healthy communication, flexibility, mutual respect, and consideration for each other’s point of view. There are many issues team partners might disagree about: rules, what a child is allowed to do and when; disciplinary measures such as when to impose logical consequences versus when to allow natural consequences to occur; deciding which behaviors are praiseworthy; and determining values and priorities such as insisting on attendance at religious school versus involvement in sports. It helps to be proactive rather than reactive, meaning that some advanced planning and forethought are required.
What are the Obstacles?
There are three main areas that can pose roadblocks to your efforts to team parent: the adults, the type of family you grew up in, and the children themselves.
The Adults: There are many parental behaviors that interfere with effective team parenting. For example, a young mother may be afraid to talk to an older care provider about a child’s bedtime rituals so as not to cause dissention; she goes along with the care provider’s rules and values rather than rock the boat by voicing her own opinion or telling the caregiver what she would like the bedtime routine to be. Or there may be a divorce involving shared custody, with each household providing different rules, enabling the child to pit one parent against the other – which of course is a dynamic that can occur even when you all live under the same roof.
When adults let arguments escalate, often the issues surrounding the child’s behavior cease to be addressed. For example, if a parent and a coach argue about a child’s poor sportsmanlike behavior, they may get so worked up fighting amongst themselves that the child’s tripping his opponent is forgotten and he is off the hook. Closer to home, I have literally sent my son to his room while my husband and I continued our “debate” in hopes of resolving a parenting issue. “Objection!” “Overruled!” And on it went….
If you can’t reach a consensus or don’t have the opportunity to speak behind closed doors about how to handle a situation, it is best not to interfere with a co-parent’s decision, especially in the heat of the moment. Wait till later to discuss the issue at hand privately. (An exception would be if the other person is physically or verbally abusive to your child.) As you talk, you may find that one person feels really strongly about the issue, so the other may acquiesce. If you simply cannot agree, you may have to institute an edict explaining that there are different rules in different places. For example, there are “Daddy’s rules” in effect when you are with him. “Mommy’s rules” get followed when you are with her. Or “Grandma lets you wear your shoes in her house; at our house, you need to take them off.” If at all possible, it is best if you agree on the really big, fundamental parenting decisions. As there is no shortage of things to disagree on throughout your child’s life, choose your battles carefully!
Family of Origin Considerations: The way you were raised also has a profound effect on how you parent your child and how well you can work with your parenting teammate. Often one partner assumes the role of the disciplinarian (“You must do your chores right now, no exceptions.”), while the other co-parent gets to be the fun one (“Forget about your chores; go play.”) As a result, rigid roles may get set up and become more extreme over time as each tries to compensate for what he or she views as either a too strict or a too lenient parenting style on the part of the partner. Ideally, both want to find a middle ground, one which provides structure but allows for flexibility based on the child’s needs and the circumstances. For example, “Let’s talk about how you can see your friends and still complete your chores.”
The Child: How well a child’s temperament matches with an adult’s temperament and expectations determines in part how the adult will respond to the child. For example, a child might be very boisterous and active (intensity and activity level are two of the ten temperament traits); this enthusiasm might delight his teacher but drive the classroom assistant “up a wall.” They would understandably react very differently to this same child and may have different thoughts about setting limits around his behavior.
As another example, a dad might identify more with a child in the same birth order as he was in when he was growing up, and be either more lenient or more strict as a result. Perhaps a first-born father might be very demanding of his second-born concerning chores because when he was growing up, he believed that his younger sister did not do her fair share. At the same time, this father may pester his oldest child to “lighten up,” something he had been unable to do in his own childhood. Just a few more areas for parents and caregivers to have to come to an understanding about…
What Can You Do?
Once you become aware of which factors may be getting in the way of creating a successful parenting team, you are more likely to co-parent in unison and keep your child’s needs in the forefront of your discussions rather than undermining each other and becoming frustrated. Here are some basic ground rules that can be helpful:
- Set aside time for regular planning sessions to discuss what is working in your family or parenting partnership and which areas still need to be addressed.
- Don’t put yourself in the middle of a situation that your partner is already handling.
- Support one another and appreciate each other’s beliefs, needs, strengths, and efforts.
- Stick to the issues and don’t get sidetracked.
- Listen to each other and work to understand your parenting partner’s viewpoint.
- Express your opinions directly without sarcasm or blame.
Remember: you are a team, fighting on the same side!By Judy Kroll, Parenting Educator
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