One of the biggest stresses on a relationship is parenting. And one of the biggest stresses on kids is inconsistent parenting. So getting on the same page as your partner benefits the whole family.
Here are some ideas of where to start.1) Be honest about the situation.
Sometimes parents want to blame the problems only on the child; sometimes there’s denial involved. Sometimes it’s that the disagreements are subtle rather than explosive. But subtle can still be toxic.
An example of this is when one of you repeatedly gives in to the child, while the other holds firm. This encourages the child to be defiant and/or manipulative, and it can lead to resentment on the part of the parent who intended to withhold.
This type of situation is repetitive, and corrosive. But it might not be explosive–as in, one person might be suppressing anger or pretending it doesn’t really matter.
Admit to yourself that disagreements and inconsistency does matter.
2) Identify the problematic behaviors clearly.
Look at where problems tend to occur. Be specific: Who does what, where, when, how. Chart it out so that you really know the cycle.
Assume that you are both responsible for your roles in the cycle. In this way, you can avoid blaming and begin to look at what’s really breaking down.
3) Consider the underlying parenting philosophy.
Most of us are operating from some sort of belief system regarding parenting, though few of us acknowledge it explicitly. Now’s the time to reflect on what you saw growing up, what you’re trying to imitate, and what you’re trying to do differently.
From there, you can look for points of agreement and disagreement. You can also identify areas for negotiation, versus non-negotiables. What is a strongly held value? What is up for debate?
But above all, work to keep the dialogue respectful. You both have valid ideas, and with parenting, there’s a lot of room for individual preference and style.
4) Read books together.
This one’s optional, but an important suggestion. If you found #3 above to be very difficult, if you can articulate a coherent philosophy and the behaviors that flow from it, it might be time to get some parenting books.
There are a lot of great ones out there. I hesitate to recommend specific guides because the browsing process is key. You want to look around to see what resonates with you. And if you and your partner are drawn to different parenting books, that in itself is interesting. Then you should read both and come back together to discuss the most salient ideas.
5) Put together a plan (and be specific.)
You’ve seen the word “specific” many times in this post. That’s because vagueness is often a way that people fail to be accountable and end up blaming others. Global assessments like “I’m right and he’s wrong” (or vice versa) end up substituting for meaningful discourse.
The plan should address the most common problematic situations. It should explain what both people are going to do differently (and it doesn’t mean there has to be equal involvement. A perfectly reasonable plan might be that one parent is taking the lead and the other person is stepping back entirely.)
After you carry out the plan, come back together and evaluate. How did it go? How did each person feel? How did the child respond?
Remember that children will often fight for the status quo–meaning, they’ll resist any change initially. Or you might find that they respond immediately, which lets you know that they’ve been craving more authority or consistent or what-have-you all along.
So commit to the plan, and to reevaluating. Most critically, commit to respect and valuing one another’s parenting contributions.
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