You were so prepared. You talked about how you want to parent your kids before they even showed up on the scene. You agreed on the lessons you want to teach your kids. You have the same vision for the type of people you hope to raise. Then you realize that there were some important conversations you never had:
What if my approach is different than yours?
What happens when we start to criticize each other’s approaches?
A Recurring Story
My husband and I agree that our teen-aged sons should both remember and carry out their responsibilities on their own. Gone are the days of, “Did you wash your hands?” “Did you do your homework?” However, one son has to take a daily dose of medication that really can’t be skipped. One is developing some serious gum trouble and the dentist gave him strict orders about daily flossing. They both have garbage and recycling duties. So you know what happens right? In my book, these are exceptions. Health trumps everything. I personally can’t live with garbage piling up. My husband is not bothered by a little extra garbage and doesn’t think the health consequences are exactly life or death.
The Downward Spiral Conversation
Husband: “Why do you keep reminding them? How are they ever going to learn to do this without you?”
[I hate it when he criticizes my parenting. Now I am the enemy and we are no longer a united front.]
Wife: “I don’t remind them ALL the time. But it is important. Maybe you should be reminding them to?”
[Why is she always so defensive? I thought we agreed that it is important for them to learn responsibility. I can never bring this up without her jumping down my throat.]
Husband: “Nag, Nag, Nag. You just keep nagging. That is not who I want to be.”
[How dare he throw that label at me? I am not a nag, am I? ]
Silence. Sulk. End of conversation.
A healthier way forward:
We could be transparent about the conversations we are having in our heads. In order to avoid going down the road of blame and defensiveness, we could use John Gottman’s approach with the following formula: “I feel…I want…” cycling back and forth until we both feel heard and can begin to align around some solutions. Like this:
- “I feel criticized when you bring this up and I want us to be on the same side figuring this out together.”
- “I feel confused about how to bring up this topic. I want us to be on the same page.”
We could be transparent with the kids. Like this:
So guys, we were talking and you know that we really want you to become more responsible for your own stuff right? We are both really proud of the way you do what you need to for school and the way you get yourselves up and out the door in the morning. But we also noticed that some things are falling through the cracks. We have been handling that with you differently (they know of course but it’s worth saying explicitly if they don’t beat you to it!). Mom has been reminding you and I have let it go. But we want the same thing-for you to be more responsible. So we thought maybe we should all talk about it and come to some agreements about how to do this better.
This is likely to be one of those perpetual issues. It is in our home. That means there is an ongoing need to keep the communication open, honest and respectful between you as parents and between you and your kids.