Written by Darcia C. Tudor © 2005
It is not what you do for your children, but what you teach them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.
Raising healthy, happy, children is what every parent wants, and being a family can strengthen and enhance your relationship. On the other hand, battling over childrearing, who knows best, and when enough is enough-- can jeopardize your marriage, and consequently the health and well being of your children. We as parents spend months before our child is born learning to breath, discussing elaborate birth plans, room decor, and possible names, but rarely talk to our partners about how to actually learn how to raise the "little one" before we are blessed with their presence and in the midst of the battle. We just assume that parenting together will come as naturally as walking, riding a bike, or any of the other life transitions we have gone through. Forgetting how difficult it was to master the task of standing up, staying on the bike, and the falls, bruises, and disappointments along the way.
Having experienced child birth through three C sections and one adoption, and in the process of raising four girls, my husband and I decided that the prenatal classes were a colossal waste of precious training time. Having each child had been the easy part. My doctor was marvelous, the nurses supportive and efficient, and the medications helped me keep my perspective throughout. Then I went home, only to realize that child birth was easy in comparison to raising the "little darling" with man I not only loved, but respected, --- my husband. Like most parents, my husband and I never seriously discussed how we were going to discipline and reward our children to motivate them to become the responsible, well behaved, and balanced children we planned to raise, until we were sucked into the crisis of the actual task.
I remember the first time we had a real conversation about our unspoken values about childrearing. Prior to the birth of our first child, our doctor mentioned that, if we had a boy we would have to decide whether or not to have him circumcised. I had never given it much though, and my husband (who had been circumcised at birth) hadn't either. This would be our first childrearing decision, and I wanted it to be the "right" decision. So, I approached it my usual way: I researched the issue. My husband approached it his usual way: He drew from his own personal experiences. I read up on the procedure and discovered that many doctors believed it to be primarily a cultural preference, rather than a medical necessity. And to make matters worse, I found out that most physicians did not use medication to lessen the pain! I was appalled that civilized parents would subject their male child to pain for reasons of "vanity" and "male bonding rituals". My husband, to my surprise, was not. He had a different take on issue. Having been in a few locker rooms, and seen the cajoling and bullying of those who were different. He believed it was very important for his son to be like everyone else in the locker room. The brief pain that he would never consciously remember would be potentially less damaging than the prolonged teasing that he might never be able to forget. After the debate between the two of us had transformed into the "cold war", fortunately for use we discovered we were having a girl (and that's all we ever had thereafter so the issue became moot). But this was the first sign of the struggles to come, and my realization that the man I married had a different view of the "world of childrearing".
Parents must be able to present a united front on key values and have a strong personal relationship for a child to have the security, discipline and confidence he or she needs to develop emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Most disagreements between parents are over discipline and rewards. And when the disagreements occur you and your spouse are not the only two in the room. Each spouse unconsciously brings their parental role models with them, and often their culturally induced gender specific parenting styles. For parents to be able to work towards becoming partners in this venture you must learn the rules of "fair fighting", the basics of "constructive communication, and rethink familial systems or interaction patterns that do not engage both parents in active participation in parenting.
The most powerful forces in human relationships are expectations. You influence a person's behavior by changing your expectations.
Parenting Partners both Participate In Parenting: Who really feels responsible for making the children's medical appointments, getting their school work completed, and making sure they clean their room or perform their chores in your family? If one parent has the "endless list" of responsibilities and the other parent gets to be the "substitute teacher". The substitute is going to run into problems, when the "manager" is away, and the "manager" will definitely resent the substitute for good reason. In many households, but not all, the "endless list" parent is the MOM, and the "substitute teacher" is the dad. For parents to enjoy parenting their children together they have to make changes in the aspects of the family system or structure that prevents the committed participation of both parents.
Every household has to get beyond the belief that one parent is in charge and the other helps out. When one parent assumes all of the responsibility for managing the children's schedules, monitoring their school work, and disciplines that parent is "in charge". Consequently, the parent "in charge" frequently feels responsible for a child's poor behavior, and the other parents usually reinforce this misconception because "you're in charge". Unbalanced parental participation creates an imbalance in power and responsibility that feeds parental disagreement. Equalizing the responsibility will naturally give each parent a fair perspective of what works and what doesn't, as well as providing the other parent a reprieve from the burdens of the endless list of daily parenting responsibilities. Equalizing responsibility does not mean each parent puts in equal time, just that each parent participates in the care, feeding, and discipline of their children, and has participated in determining how their children will be motivated and disciplined. Actual involvement, hands on child care, not distant observation is the best tool for teaching each parent what works and what does not in their household, and is the cement that secures the united front when the child attempts to manipulate the boundaries or the consequences.
Parents need to realize that there are no "Perfect Parents" and those who successful parent usually learn through trial and error , and on the job training. Take the Ego out of parenting: you are not solely responsible for your children's failures or their successes. They come into this world with their own temperament and unique preferences and dislikes. Like a tree you can fertilize it, but never change it from a Spruce to a Fir tree. As a parent you will have the greatest impact on your child's development through the daily fabric of the life you weave for them. If it is strong, vivid, designed with loving boundaries and principled encouragement and discipline, your child will be able to wrap themselves in the tapestry of the world they know and not the trauma of any single mistake. Do not hesitate to ask for, plan, and rely upon the friends, family, teachers, and who ever else is willing to help you. Be creative in your ideas that work for your family, and work to bridge the gaps between you parent and how you would like to parent. Raising a child is the most unselfish thing any parent will ever do, and can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
Communication: the Rules of Fair Fighting. Regardless of the pro's and con's of one style over the other, parents who want to spend more time enjoying their mate and their children, and less time over arguing who is right or wrong, must decide to make livable compromises that will allow them to parent together. This will require that you bridge the gender-based differences, if there are any, narrow the gap between the strict and lenient member of the parenting team, and sort out the most effective disciplinary and reward techniques for your family from the confusing array of methods childrearing experts suggest. To do this requires what I call "fair fighting" and "hands on participation".
Timing is Everything: Most parents argue over discipline in the heat of the moment, when the stress of the situation has everyone on edge. They say things they probably would not in a calmer situation. Any dispute about parenting should be brought up at an appropriate time. This means not when tempers are heightened, not in the presence of the children, and not over dinner with friends.
Think Before you Speak: Spend some time thinking about exactly what the problem is, not just what it looks like on the surface. Select a specific incident that demonstrates the behavior or situation you want to change. How it makes you feel. Clarify in your own mind why this issue is important to you, and how it impacts your family. Last, but not least, be honest with yourself about how you contribute tot the problem.
Ground Rules for the Discussion: Be prepared to listen without interrupting. You may even want to repeat what your partner says to be sure what you "think" you heard was actually what he "thought" he said. Try starting your sentences using "I" works that get you out of the accusatory mode. Be polite: treat your spouse like you would a friend. Trust and respect are the basics for any good relationship, and your "discussion" should reflect both. The problem is most people under stress easily slip into their old habits of overt battle techniques, such as not speaking, yelling, repetitiveness, pouting, being sarcastic, threatening, complaining and blaming. Just as injurious to true communication are the covert tactics frequently engaged in by the passive aggressive personality type: manipulation, criticizing without a solution, or sacrificing your mate to make yourself look good.
The sounds of encouragement are words that build feelings of competence; be generous with them especially with your mate.
Raising Responsible Confident Children requires Encouragement and Discipline. To reduce the stress of making daily parenting decisions, and avoid the pitfalls of blaming each other, when things go wrong, Parents must:
- Agree on discipline strategies
- Agree on privileges and principles
- Be consistent to be effective
- Accept the fact that mom's and dad's parent differently.
Parents need to encourage children, and minimize gratuitous praise. Encouragement focuses on the child's assets and strengths building self confidence and feelings of worth. Praise, on the other hand, is given for things well done, implying a spirit of competition. Encouragement is given for effort or improvement. Encouragement implies a spirit of cooperation. The value underlying praise is judgment: you did well or you did not. The value underlying encouragement is acceptance. It tells your child that you accept them for who they are: your love and acceptance is unconditional and not dependent on their performance.
Discipline is defined in Webster's Dictionary as "the practice of training people to obey rules, using punishment." To teach is the goal not the infliction of a penalty or sanction. For a child to learn from parental discipline there must be some logical connection between the sanction and the violation. The punishment is used to teach the child that they are responsible for the decisions that they make and must live with the consequences of their behaviors. When sanctions are used in a punitive, judgmental, or threatening manner, they demand obedience or submission without choice. This can be necessary for drawing lines essential to safety and minimal respect for other people. However, it does not motivate, or teach, your child to make responsible decisions that will make them successful human beings.
There are emotional, natural, and logical consequences in the real world for the choices we make. If you loose your temper with your friends, the emotional consequence is that guilt you feel after the behavior. If you leave your coat at school, the natural consequence is that you will be cold while waiting for the bus the next morning. If you decide not to do your homework, the logical consequence is you will not do well on the test. The difficulty most parents have, however, is allowing our children to live with the consequences of their actions. Yet, if they do not your children will not learn to make responsible decisions or to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make.
In conclusion remember to have a sense of humor. Parenting is hard work, but it can be a lot of fun, too.