Parenting – A United Front

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Children in today’s society may have multiple parents and caregivers. Sometimes they have one, three, or four parents. Sometimes grandparents or aunts and uncles help with parenting. It’s important those adult s who guide children’s lives guide them in a united and reasonably consistent way. Even though the adults may have some differences in their preferred styles of parenting, the view from the children’s perspective should be of fairly similar expectations, efforts, and limits.

If adults are consistent with each other, children will know what’s expected of them. They’ll also understand that they cannot avoid doing what feels a little hard or scary or challenging by the protection of another adult.
Competition invades our families. Underlying parent rivalry are parents’ concerns about being good parents. That wish to be a good parent may be internalized as being the “better” parent. Sometimes a parent’s effort to be better may cause the other parent to feel that he or she can never be good enough.

If children face parents who have contradictory expectations, and lack the confidence to meet the expectations of one of their parents, they turn to the other parent who not only unconditionally supports them, but accidentally teaches them “the easy way out.” The kind and caring parents, without recognizing the problem they’re causing their children, unintentionally protect their children when they face challenge.

Here are some tips for how you can put up a united front when dealing with your kids:

Make it clear to your children that you value and respect the intelligence of your spouse.
Don’t put your spouse down except in jest and only when it’s absolutely clear that you’re joking. Use conversations with your children to point out the excellent qualities of the other parent. Be sure to describe your spouse’s career in respectful terms. In that way, neither of you feels as if you’re doing work that the other doesn’t value.

Don’t join in an alliance with your children against the other parent in any way that suggests disrespect.
Sometimes parents do this subtly, as in, “I agree with you, but I’m not sure I can convince your mom (or dad).” If you communicate to your children that you value their other parent, it will almost always be good for your children, for your spouse, and for you. In adolescence, just a few slips may initiate disrespect.

Reassure your oppositional children frequently of their parents’ mutual support for them.
Be positively firm in not permitting them to manipulate either of you. They may perceive spousal support of each other as a betrayal of themselves and will feel hurt or depressed. You should assure them frequently that spouses can respect each other and still love their children. One of the parents (the “good” one) will easily be placed in the position of mediator by these children in order to persuade the other, unless the parent absolutely refuses to play that role.

When your children come to you to complain about their father or mother expecting too much of them, be alert not to get caught in the manipulations.
They’re hoping you’ll help them get out of what the other parent has asked them to do. You’ll want to respond in kindness while maintaining a message of respect for your spouse.

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