By: Dr. Gregory Popcak
Dana and Andrew were at odds. “We were raised very differently.” Dana explained. “Andrew’s folks were pretty laid back. I came from a very orderly home.” Andrew chimed in. “Her family’s great–don’t get me wrong–but they’re kind of uptight. Lots of rules. I just think kids oughta be kids.” Dana interrupted, “You just don’t have any idea what kids really need!” “Hey!” said Andrew. “All I know is that’s the way I was raised and I turned out OK. You married me, didn’t you?” Dana looked at me wearily, “See what I mean?” Sound familiar? If so, you shouldn’t be surprised. Parenting disagreements remain one of the most frequent reasons couples cite for seeking marital counseling. And there are countless others with similar problems who never get to the counselor’s office. If you and your spouse are ready to leave this old fight behind here are 4 tips to help you get over the hurdle.
1. Leave the cookie cutters in the kitchen.
Parenting is not a cookie cutter process. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you read in that book, what your neighbors told you, or how your parents did it. Those tips may have worked great for the author’s kids, the neighbor’s kids, or for you as a child, but your child is a unique individual with unique needs who learns–you guessed it–uniquely. For each child you have, be prepared to parent differently, because each child is a different person. Other’s experience and the past can serve as reference points, but the present reality has to trump those rules of thumb. Leave the cookie cutter methods for making cookies.
2. Avoid Academic Arguments.
Many couples engage in academic arguments about “What kids need.” For example; “Kids need to have a pet to learn responsibility.” VS. “Kids shouldn’t have pets until they are more responsible.” “Kids need to clean their plates.” VS. “Kids need to be allowed to stop eating when they want.” “Kids need play dates for socialization.” VS. “Kids have too many play dates. They need unstructured time.” These discussions go no where because they have nothing to do with the reality of your family! Who cares what “kids” need? The real question is what do your children need? Generally speaking, is your child responsible? If so, then why worry about teaching him responsibility? Or, by contrast, if your child is not responsible, then why limit yourself to pets? Unless you are hoping to prepare your child for a rewarding career in animal husbandry, wouldn’t it be good to focus more on compliance with chores, homework, and volunteering to help around the house regardless of the addition of pets?
Similarly, is your child undernourished? Then by all means, she should be encouraged to clean her plate. But if she is gaining weight and growing, what’s the problem? Likewise, is your child socially inept? If so, by all means, sign him up for more play dates. But if he already works and plays well with others, what are you arguing about? My point is not to resolve these specific issues or make light of such concerns. My point is that many of the parenting “problems” that husbands and wives argue about have nothing to do with reality. They are not really parenting their children. They are merely arguing about the “best” way to play the parenting role with imaginary children irrespective of the family they actually have.
3. Identify specific goals.
Once you leave behind the false security of cookie-cutter parenting and stop pouring energy into academic arguments about imaginary children, you need a real plan. Don’t ask yourself, “What can we do to get these kids in line?” Ask instead, “What specific things does this child need to learn to be more responsible/respectful/ generous/etc?” Does little Hedwig have a temper? Don’t just punish the outbursts, teach her what to do instead. Don’t know how? Start by asking yourself, “When Heddy is respectful, why? What is enabling her to be more respectful then? Why is she motivated to behave better? And specifically, what does she do that I like?” Then use these specific motivators and encourage these specific behaviors more often–or build upon what she already does well. Here’s another example. Does little Theophane have a hard time sharing his toys? Don’t just punish the lack of generosity. Recall the times he does share. Ask yourself why. What’s different then? And what skills does Theo need to apply that same behavior to the new situation? I can’t go into much more detail in the space we have, but I offer ample examples of how to do all this in Parenting with Grace: A Catholic Parent Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids. The point is that good behavior does not spontaneously erupt by punishing bad behavior any more than good math skills spontaneously erupt by punishing poor math skills. Identify what your specific child needs to learn and what motivates that particular child. Then follow it through.
4. Know when to get help.
I know that in tip #1 (above) I said that you shouldn’t worry about what all the different “experts” said. You shouldn’t. But sometimes you and your mate are just too close to see the situation clearly. Remember that time the teacher said what a great kid you have? Or the waitress complimented your children on their politeness and you thought, “What kids are these people talking about?” Avoid both degreed and self-appointed “experts” who spout platitudes about what “all kids need.” But do seek advice from those wise friends, and respected professionals who can help you see your children with fresh eyes and offer you new tools that are tailor to the unique needs of your unique child.
That’s a Wrap.
In short, forget what you think you know about parenting. Instead, you and your mate need to get to know the child you have in front of you right now, build a solid relationship with that child, develop a shared vision of the specific behaviors and values you want to see in your family, and ask yourselves what specific actions or techniques motivate each particular child to demonstrate those values and behaviors. If you’re still finding your house prone to domestic disputes of a disciplinary nature, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and get the solutions to the issues you’re struggling with. Call us and get the skills you need to succeed in all your family and parenting endeavors.