Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. There’s no rehearsal. No interview process. You haven’t a clue what it’s going to be like, and suddenly, you’re hired.
You’re a parent.
And what about the person at your side? The guy or girl who you’re going to count on to do this parenting thing the right way?
Sure, over the years, there have been a few annoying things about your husband or wife, but those annoyances have rolled off your back pretty well. So he’s a little loud and yells at the television. Or she spends a lot of her free time with her mother. You’ve tried to understand.
Whatever your issues are, they’ve been livable. You’ve loved each other and believe you have a solid marriage. “When it’s time, we’ll have kids. And it’ll be great.”
And then you’re parents…
Then you two bring your first bundle of joy home, (let’s call him Spencer), and slowly but surely, those very issues can rear their heads as virtual monsters. The things that were once tolerable suddenly seem intolerable.
“I need you to stop yelling at the TV. Spencer’s starting to do it too.”
“Your mother’s always over here. And she spoils Spencer. I want to do things as a family — just us.”
Not only do your partner’s habits affect your life, now you may likely fear how they’ll affect your child’s life. Instead of feeling closer as parents, you can begin to realize these differences translate into opposing choices on how to rear a child. Probably a lot of it is due to the two of you being raised differently, but when the two of you try to talk about it, you each get defensive.
For example. the yeller?
“My family always yelled a lot. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
If you’re having mom over a lot?
“We’re a close family. We always had someone over at the house– an aunt, cousins — our house stayed full of people all the time.”
And so the debate begins. And the arguments can get brutal.
Of course, the problems could be much more serious than yelling at the TV or Mom’s fairly constant presence. If your partner drinks excessively, smokes weed every day, refuses to talk things out calmly, makes excuses for bad behavior, or any number of chronic problems — you may have put up with it before having children. Now? The stakes are much higher. And the problem you face is immense.
But for today, let’s say the problems are fairly average ones and are more a part of growing up differently. How do you work together to make decisions about parenting and honor the fact that you two don’t see things the same way? Parenting is a complicated, marvelous, frustrating, boring, intriguing job. So what does it take to compromise? To listen and not be defensive when you’re trying to work out your differences and beliefs about being a parent?
Four important realizations to help calm the debate...
It’s not easy, but here are four guidelines.
1) Realize most approaches to parenting have their strong points, when used at the right times.
Say someone can be overprotective or obsess about safety and that irritates you. He may be the very parent who’s going to notice on a family picnic that a hammock is being hung right over a sharp rock. Or perhaps you’re the parent who is more lax, not as vigilant in “watching the kids.” That parent is the one who’s, when little Johnny is getting older, is going to argue that it is time for him to be allowed to go with friends alone to a game. Both brands of parenting can be “right.” It’s dependent on the circumstances.
The trick is to realize what your own particular vulnerability is – what you might underdo or overdo – and realize that sometimes your instincts might be off base, and your partner could be right on target.
It takes mutual respect.
2) Appreciate and be grateful for your differences.
Maybe your partner announces on a Saturday morning, “It’s a gorgeous day! Let’s take the kids for a hike!” But you’re the one who’s cleaning all the time. You can respond by grousing, “And when do you plan to clean out the garage?” Or you can realize that it is a beautiful day and sometimes cleaning can take a back seat.
So you go. You have a great time. And you say afterwards, “Thanks for getting me out there. It was beautiful. How about tomorrow we clean out the garage?”
Showing gratitude is a wonderful gift to give your partner, and your relationship.
3) Realize that your children are better off because you two are different.
Your kids can benefit from you both if you’re not constantly fighting for control. Dramatic differences can be worked out, everything from diverse religious views to academic preferences.
This kind of cooperation takes flexibility. If you’re rigid or are married to someone who is, the control battle will be hard to avoid. The more rigid person will either not allow the other person to parent – to make choices or suggestions, or will be highly critical of them if they do. “I don’t put the diapers on like that.” “Why are you letting him stay in the tub for so long?” “She doesn’t like her sandwiches like that.”
If you’re micromanaging like this, it’s not only disrespectful, you’re setting an unhealthy example for your kids.
4) Manage your insecurity.
Parenting is the most ambiguous task you’ll ever do. None of us know for certain what the outcome will be. Your kids will be fine. Talk to friends, go to a therapist — whatever you need to do. As long as they feel safe and loved, the majority of children will thrive.
If you ever ask them as an adult, “What did you think about your dad and me when you were a child?”
They’ll likely respond, “Oh Mom, you and Dad were just different.”
If you have enjoyed a wonderful partner in your relationship, you might want to thank them in a small way. Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” a gift book by Dr. Margaret!
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