- Setting curfew
- Food rules
- Rules with friends
- Appropriate language, clothes, attitude
Parenting is a hard job. There are endless decisions to make. As a parent, you are busy doing the work that makes your life function. Your kids are watching everything that you do. They learn the rules of your family and can easily see the loopholes in those rules. They figure out how to get what they want and need based on these rules and loopholes.
In a perfect world, you and your partner would always be on the same page. A problem would pop up, you would briefly discuss it, and you would agree on a solution. When you as parents agree, there are fewer loopholes for your kids to use.
Is it even possible to be on the same page? You each have your own personality, experiences, values, and needs. When you try to work together, these differences get in the way. You see your partner as preventing you from getting things done the “right” way. The issue becomes a battle between you and your spouse rather than focusing on setting boundary for your child.
How do you go from battling one another to working as a team?
You and your partner are two separate people. You have your own ideas about many things. The way you look at the world was shaped by your experiences and temperament. This is a good thing. It means that you each bring a different perspective to situations.
When you trust your partner, you understand that they are not trying to get in your way. Instead, they are trying to show you a different part of the same situation. You are always better at solving a problem if you can see more of the picture. Being an ally focuses on honoring their concerns as well as your own.
It is tempting to want a conversation to be one-and-done. You know–you talk about the problem once for five minutes, agree, and never have to talk about it again. Most problems are more complicated than this. They require you to think about the problem, gather all the information, and look at the options. They need negotiation to get to a good solution. When you slow a conversation down, you give yourselves the luxury of finding better solutions. The best solutions come from being patient through the process.
When my husband talks about what he wants, I often have a hard time listening. Instead, I want to tell him my opinion of his ideas. A powerful trick to keeping conversations calmer: before giving your opinion, sum up what your partner said. You might say “I want to make sure I understood what’s important to you.” Then give a brief summary of what they suggested. Doing this does not imply that you agree with them—just that you understand what they are telling you. After summarizing, you can talk about your thoughts.
A sign that you are in a power struggle with your spouse is if you are arguing over only two solutions. Even if you convinces them to agree, you and your relationship loses. If someone feels like they lost a battle, they are unlikely to uphold that decision if later it is hard to enforce.
One trick to breaking the stalemate is to imagine that those two options are no longer possible. If those solutions are off the table, what other possibilities are there? I challenge couples to identify 10 different ways to solve the problem. Include the terrible options. When couples discover a lot of ways to solve a problem, they usually make better decisions.
“If we keep fighting it out, we will eventually work through it.”
Many couples will have marathon heart-wrenching discussions that take days to recover from. They keep pushing through—as if saying the same thing the tenth time will have a different impact on their partner than the first. They ignore hunger and exhaustion to stay locked into a battle that they believe they can win. This is a recipe for relationship injuries.
Instead: take a break to calm down. Think of other solutions. Come back to the problem with renewed energy.
A good solution is one that:
- fits each partner,
- builds your relationship with one another, and
- supports your child
Take the time to find a solution that you can each get behind and support. Even if you can’t find the win for everyone, make sure that each person feels heard and supported so the relationships stay strong.
While you are negotiating with your partner, tell your child that you are figuring it out. Kids need to see examples of adults who disagree but still like each other. From your struggle, they will learn that it is safe to have a different idea and that people can work through those differences.
Sometimes decisions have to be made on the spur of the moment. Talk about things before they happen so you can find some common ground rules that you both have confidence in. If it’s a new situation, use it as an opportunity to put some new ground rules in place.
To be on the same page with your spouse, it is essential, NO vital, that you spend enjoyable time together. You need to remember why you started this journey and why you continue working it out. You can schedule a date or focus on other parts of your life to remind each of you that your relationship has value, even when you don’t agree.
This is a great sidestep option. While you are working it out, give your child the opportunity to make their case. Let them know that you are still discussing the situation with the other parent. Then invite them to share their thoughts. A lot of times, your child will give you important information that will help you focus on the right things.
Occasionally, you will realize that the power struggle is with your partner. If your child can’t make a case they might not care that much about it. Listening to your child’s argument will slow down the decision. You will learn important information about how your child is thinking about the problem.
It’s so much easier when parents naturally agree. Then you sail through those decisions. It’s easy to forget that you agree on many things because they don’t cause a problem. Having strategies to get on the same page will make it easier to navigate the harder parenting problems.
A special thanks to Tess Connolly for inviting me to speak to her listeners about Having a Good Relationship While Parenting.