Have you and your partner or spouse ever disagreed about rules, discipline or other decisions related to your children? If your answer is no, chances are you have a very short memory. If your answer yes, however, that means that you’re normal. After all, couples disagree over the best way to load the dishwasher—why would something as infinitely more complex and emotional as raising children be any easier?
One challenge is that people often bring many of their own childhood experiences to the way they decide to parent. Some believe their parents did all the right things and want to emulate them. Others think their parents did all the wrong things and want to raise their children in the opposite fashion. But since those are based on personal and individual experiences, you have two people bringing conflicting sets of emotional baggage into child-rearing.
For example, say one parent grew up with a mom who almost never let him eat sweets, so he thinks his spouse is destroying their kids by letting them eat ice cream for dessert every night. But she grew up eating ice cream every day as a child, so she doesn’t see the problem with it. She thinks he’s too strict, while he thinks she’s too indulgent. Ultimately, they’re making little or no progress toward setting clear rules.
As with most disagreements about how to raise children, the goal should be to make it about what’s best for them and acknowledge that whatever you think worked, or didn’t, in your family, does not necessarily make you the expert. Avoid letting it devolve from a disagreement about ice cream into a fight over whose parents were better, smarter or nicer. Entering such highly charged territory is not conductive to making a good decision about your own kids in the here and now. Instead, simply try doing a little research about kids and sugar—and in this case, there’s plenty of solid scientific information out there—and work out a compromise based on what’s healthy and reasonable.
Other parents have issues with unresolved anger towards each other that surfaces in arguments about child-rearing and turns their kids into unwitting pawns. Let’s imagine a couple, Kate and Jon, who are arguing over where their children should attend school. Kate favors a private school, because she has a dim view of the public schools in their neighborhood, while Jon thinks the local schools are fine. Instead of doing any objective research into the pros and cons of the various schools they’re considering, they hurl accusations. Kate tells Jon he doesn’t care enough about the kids’ education. Jon accuses Kate of being snobbish and overprotective.
Eventually, through therapy, they discover some of the underlying causes of the conflict: Kate is frustrated that her husband’s income makes it difficult for them to either to afford the private school or a move to a more exclusive neighborhood. Jon in turn thinks Kate is overly judgmental and admits he also resents the pressure he faces as the family’s sole breadwinner. The fight over schools has less to do with what’s best for their children than their personal wars that need to be resolved.
Those are just two examples, but there are countless more, from setting a teenager’s curfew to agreeing on consequences when rules are broken. But as many variations as there are in the ways we argue over child-rearing, the answers are often the same: (1) Try to resolve them with facts, not emotion; (2) be aware when your problems as a couple are bleeding over into decisions about your kids; and (3) present a united front wherever possible. This will prevent your kids from feeling caught in the middle, while helping you perform one of the most important jobs you have as a parent: setting a good example of how to overcome conflict in a rational and positive way.
If you need help finding healthy resolutions to your child-rearing conflicts, please give us at a call at 949-220-3211 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the OC Relationship Center are here to help you.