Relationship advice: Creating a joint parenting style
It is important for parents to find a style that suits them. With planning and teamwork, many parenting issues can be ressolved or even prevented.
Parents plan in so many ways for the arrival of their first child. They decorate a nursery, and they search for the perfect pediatrician. All the little clothes must be bought, and someone has to decide whether they will use disposable or cloth diapers. Among all those decisions and discussions, there is an important one which is often neglected. In the midst of discussing playgroups, pacifiers, and whether to breast or bottle-feed, parents need to pause and determine what style of parenting will suit their family best.
There are many styles to choose from. Some parents are strict, some more lenient, some believe in ‘picking battles,’ and a few in allowing the child freedom of self-expression in all things. Even when parents have determined when to discipline, they must face the choice of how to discipline. There are a dizzying variety of discipline methods to choose from, ranging from corporal punishment to natural consequences.
When parents don’t have the same style, they tend to take on very different and unequal roles. One parent becomes responsible for meting out virtually all discipline, and the other takes on the task of defending the child against punishments they believe to be too strict. Children are very clever and quick to take advantage of such a situation. Parents in this situation are not offering a whole and healthy marriage for their child to study, but a crash course in manipulation. Children reared in this type of environment, quickly learn which parent to ask for permission, which parent they must obey, and how to cause strife between the two.
Ideally, a couple should discuss discipline and formulate a parenting plan even before their first child arrives. However, many people either don’t realize there are different parenting styles or find their view changes after they have some experience as a parent. Also, parents who do have a cohesive style will occasionally find they need to tweak and improve it. At that point, it is time to sit down and have a serious discussion. This discussion should take place when everyone is calm, and the child is either away from home or asleep. It must involve a certain amount of give and take negotiation, and the giving must be equal and not centered on one side. Each parent may want to bring some notes to the meeting, and there should certainly be a pen and paper available.
The conversation should begin with a discussion of the child’s behavior. It will only hurt feelings and cause dialogue to break down if the parents begin by listing things they see as wrong with the other’s actions. So, step one is to list, ‘unacceptable behaviors.’ Depending on the age and number of children in the family these can include whining, arguing, lying, tantrums, homework/grade issues, disrespectfulness, and innumerable other items. If one parent sees a behavior as acceptable and the other does not, then negotiation must take place.
Once about ten problem behaviors have been noted, it is time to begin a new list. This is a list of possible consequences. These can range from old-fashioned spanking to natural consequences to revocation of privileges. Most effective parents do not use any one type of consequences, but a combination. Each family must determine what combination of methods best meets their needs, and often the only way for them to determine this is through trial and error.
After a list of consequences has been formed, it is time to match them to behaviors. Negotiation has an important part in this stage of the conversation, because this is where most differences really become apparent. If, for example, one parent believes a swat on the behind is the only punishment for lying, but the other is sure a short time-out is discipline enough it will be difficult for them to find common ground. They will have to do some serious negotiation to find a set of consequences they agree on.
Even after the lists have been formed, there will be new and different discipline challenges daily. When those arise, the parents can either choose a consequence from the list or they can wait to confer with their partner. This should not take the old form of, “Wait until your father gets home!” It should instead take the shape of, “I am not sure what the consequences of your actions will be. I am going to wait until your dad (or mom), gets home, and we will decide together.”
Parents can also use this meeting to discuss other parenting concerns. One common situation is when one person undertakes most of the discipline. They often feel as though all they do is punish the child. However, preplanning resolves much of this problem. It might also be helpful to devise a signal, which indicates that it is time for the other parent to deal out discipline.
Another issue is when parents debate or even argue about punishments in front of their child. While it is good to demonstrate healthy conflict resolution for a child, his own discipline should not be debated in front of him. This should be handled privately, so a united front is presented for the child. They should have no doubt that their parents are a team and are not to be baited into arguing with each other over a child’s behavior. During the parenting discussion, some agreement might be reached on this topic. For example, each parent could offer not to criticize the other’s style in front of the child and also agree to sit down and discuss altering the plan when his or her partner feels it is necessary.
Lastly after all the negotiation is finished, it is time to present the results to the child. Providing he is old enough to understand, it is essential to explain the new order of things. The child’s offending behaviors should be listed, and it should be made clear that they will not be tolerated. Also, the list of punishments assigned to each of the behaviors should be presented. Most importantly, the child must understand that the parents have discussed his behavior and are in agreement as to its consequences.
Parenting a child is often the most rewarding experience in a person’s life. The joy found in a child’s love, the pride in their accomplishments, and the sweetness of their kisses can only be rivaled by the frustration caused by watching them make poor choices. Guiding them to make better choices is much easier with a little planning and a lot of teamwork. Also, like most things in life, negotiation is the key. The best solutions can be reached when everyone is calm and the focus is on the child and family, rather than on who wins the argument. For, this discussion is truly a time where if one person wins often everyone loses.