In my previous blog, “The Importance of Tempering Ultimatums,” I discussed the importance of being in loving relationships, Understand the importance of Tempering Ultimatums. Promote understanding & making room for conversation & differences.
Building Parental Alignment Through Clear Decision-Making
Prelude: All parents aren’t good parents. Some are downright bad. There are parents that are excessive and unconscionable with their physical discipline of their children. There are parents that do not feed their children with love, sustenance, or education. There are even parents that have sex with their children. This blog is not about those types of parents, as when there is behavior such as these described, a child may find themselves trying to get out of the problematic cycle by swaying the other parent.
This blog is about parents that love and are invested in being loving to their children, yet disagree on how to do so.
Children Understand How to Manipulate Their Parents
River and Jordan are married and have a child. The child, four-year-old Phoenix, doesn’t like eating vegetables. River is not a fan of vegetables either, and when River cooks or makes Phoenix’s plate the vegetables are left off of it. Jordan is a vegetable proponent. Jordan makes vegetables a part of every meal when cooking and includes veggies on any plate that Jordan is preparing.
Phoenix is aware of the vegetable position of each parent. In fact, Phoenix has heard each parent’s justification and can recite it. River has shared, “My parents didn’t make me eat vegetables when I was a child, and I turned out fine.” Jordan has noted, “Research and common sense tells us that vegetables are a valuable part of any healthy meal; and I, and I believe we, want Phoenix to be healthy.”
Children often tell us what we want to hear when it works to their advantage. They also often don’t tell us what we don’t want to hear when that also works to their advantage. One of the arenas where children can get the biggest bang for their buck is when complaining about the other parent. In the aforementioned situation, Phoenix may tell River that Jordan required that too many vegetables be eaten and now Phoenix’s stomach hurts. Or, Phoenix may not mention to Jordan that River did not put vegetables on Phoenix’s plate.
The Challenges of Parents Not Being Aligned
The first challenge is that the parents are not on the same page pertaining to whether Phoenix eats vegetables or not. The second challenge is that they have somehow informed the child of each of the parents’ individual preferences and the child will probably use this information to sway the issue and the parents as they see fit. The third challenge is the child is under the impression that they can sway the leanings of the conversation between the parents by sharing and not sharing information as they wish.
Why Parental Alignment Matters
After the parents are clear about what the child wants, it is ideal for parents to work together, even if or when the parents disagree with one another (of course, while incorporating what the child wants into the decision making). It’s even ideal for couples, whether they have children or not, to work together, if or when they disagree. It is a way of being supportive of the family unit. And support of the family unit is a way of respecting its power. Power that recognizes that we can accomplish more together compared to us doing our own thing. There are few places, if any, where this is clearer than with raising children.
“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”
If there is any endeavor that can be given a label or characterization of “going far” it is raising a child. Based on the proverb, it is meant to be done together. The proverb doesn’t note that the people going together must agree, but to simply be together. Once the togetherness is understood, and both parties become resigned to it as a tone or culture between the two, then we can address the navigation of the issues where we disagree.
Building a Decision-Making Process Between Parents
When we commit to stay together, then we must explore how we will do so given the undeniable opportunities that will arise where we differ. Books have been written about navigating differences between couples and co-parents. Maybe this author will write one. In the meantime, a few options may include:
- Have a leader that makes decisions related to given areas of the child’s life (see Count the Stripes), and both parties wholeheartedly follow that leader.
- Flip a coin and both parties do whatever the coin says.
- Have a leader that makes the final decision about anything and everything and both parties wholeheartedly follow that leadership.
- Follow a spiritual text.
- Find a compromise or common ground to focus on.
- Take turns deferring to one another.
- If one partner feels very strongly about a particular decision, and the other is more ambivalent, consider following the partner with the stronger conviction.
Whatever the mechanism of decision-making is related to how things are done, the thing(s) that need to be done are done together.If the topic is discussed in front of the children, the environment gets to be one of respect, trust, submission, and loyalty. The children get to see that it is safe to disagree and exchange ideas within a unified partnership. Even if the parents see things differently, they get to be unified because they are making the decision together and both parents fully support the decision that is made.
For some decisions or families, it may be best to keep your children out of the conversation. They need not know who wants what or that there is a difference between what the parents want. This will help eliminate the child’s efforts at manipulation.
The Value of Clear Decision-Making and Alignment
If the parents are on the same page as to whether Phoenix will be required to or pressured to eat veggies (or not), the second and the third challenge mentioned earlier will not exist. The child will probably not attempt to sway the parents by sharing and not sharing information because the decision has already been made.
The parents’ individual preferences will minimally matter, if at all, because they have agreed to a way that veggies will be handled; and both parties presumably will honor their agreement. If the child does find out the bias of each parent, hopefully, there will be little that they can do with the information.
There will be no way to sway a parent because the decision on how to deal with said issue has already been made.
If the decision isn’t honored by a parent, then the issue becomes one of integrity. While integrity is vitally important when raising children, this blog assumes it exists between the parents. Integrity can be discussed further in a future blog
Guidelines for Continued Parental Alignment
Many things in life are easier said than done. It isn’t expected that the way forward for two co-parents (whether they are together or not) will be simple. However, this blog provides a guideline for staying unified. When parents are unified, the children’s lives can be much simpler and cohesive; and it sets the children up to create positive infrastructure in their relationships in the future too.
Moving forward, as co-parents, work together and keep your children out of the conversation. They need not know who wants what or that there is a difference between what the parents want. This will help to eliminate the child’s efforts at manipulating the parents. And it sets up your children to create positive infrastructure in their relationships in the future too.
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Frank Love coaches individuals toward creating a loving culture in their family. He is also the author of Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway) and 25 Ways to Be Loving. To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.
Key Word Phrases
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