A United Front
© Dmitriy Shironosov | Dreamstime.com
If you walk into any large bookstore and go to the parenting section, you will likely encounter rows of books on parenting— a great deal of information representing many different approaches. It’s a safe bet that most authors of such books consider consistent parenting essential for building a child’s sense of security and trust, and for effective discipline.
In our practice we frequently help couples and families work through issues, arriving at a compromise that provides a consistent approach. There are a number of effective techniques, and parents need to find one that will work for them.
Parents do not always recognize the impact inconsistent parenting can have on their child’s behavior. Sometimes confusion about rules and consequences can cause a child to misbehave. Some parents simply need guidance on working together. Others have not been able to reconcile differing beliefs or philosophies of parenting.
Most of us consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) absorbed the way we were parented and use our past experiences as a model. This may not become obvious until we are actually in the position of being a parent.
While dealing with a child, many of us have thought, “I can’t believe I just said that; I sound just like my mother (or father).” Most parents want to duplicate some aspects of their own upbringing—and perhaps avoid others. Although you may know what you don’t want for your child, it is not clear what to do in its place.
So now you bring two people together, each with their own childhood experiences and “parenting models” and try to blend it into a single approach—not an easy task. What can you do?
• Consider it a job. Think of raising children as a job that when done well is demanding and requires a set of skills and knowledge. There is no other single undertaking you as a couple will encounter that requires the same time and energy as consistent parenting. It is worth the effort.
• Talk about your partner’s upbringing. Talk with your partner about his childhood experiences; explore who did the disciplining in his family of origin and how was it done. What does he want to do? What does he want to avoid? Share your own experiences and impressions. Together decide what values you want to pass on to your child.
• Decide how to act. Take a problem-solving approach after you have talked about your childhood experiences. It is OK for the two of you not to agree initially, but after exploring some of the differences you need to come up with a plan of action you can both agree upon and put into effect.
• Discuss issues when they arise. Parenting with a single voice is a process. When you run into new challenges with your child, or a pattern of behavior, sit down as parents, talk it through and come up with a plan of action to respond.
• Read up. Educate yourself about parenting philosophies and techniques. Learn about the developmental levels your child will move through. Read a parenting book or take a parenting class.
If you and your partner are having trouble compromising, talk with a therapist. We think parents who seek help with parenting issues are acting with confidence and maturity. It’s preventive work and your efforts are an investment in your family’s future.
Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to email@example.com.