How do we discipline our 2-year old when he’s having a temper tantrum in the middle of the store? Do we let our middle schooler have the cell phone she’s been begging us for? How do we handle our teenager who wants to be allowed to go to parties and get in cars with people we’ve never met? These questions are tough enough to answer when raising children, but can be even tougher when you and your spouse can’t agree on the answer! Although we tend to look for a partner who shares similar core values and beliefs, consider that a relationship consists of two different people from two different backgrounds. That can lead to some vastly different approaches when it comes to child rearing. So, how can you work together and make countless decisions without arguments, recriminations and resentments?
Respect each other: It can be hard to really listen to your partner’s opinions when they don’t match your own. However, remember that your partner is NOT a mirror image of you. As strongly as you feel about doing “A”, your partner may feel equally as strong about doing “B”, and have just as many valid reasons. You don’t have to agree, but have respect for your partner as a different person with a different personality than you, a different history and maybe a different culture/religion. Respecting each other will go a long way in smoothing out this common relationship issue.
Listen, listen and listen some more: When your partner is talking about their opinion, be curious and try to cross into their worldview. You might ask clarifying questions. What are the feelings behind their thought? For example, it may be easy to see your partner is angry when they are demanding you punish your child for going to a party they weren’t supposed to attend. But be inquisitive about what else they may be feeling. Perhaps they felt fear that something could have gone wrong. Gaining better insight and understanding into your partner’s feelings will always be helpful in navigating differing ways of child rearing.
Try for compromise: Go for a solution you both feel at least okay with. To get there: both people can identify what they are inflexible about and where there is room for flexibility. Let’s look at an example: your partner feels it is very important for your pre teen to have a cell phone so they can be more social and be able to “fit in” with their friends. But you are strongly against it, believing the use of cell phones only contributes to more problems with friends. If each of you made a list of areas of flexibility and inflexibility perhaps a fair compromise is that your child gets the phone, but is limited to times they are allowed to use it, as well as limits on social media use.
Take it deeper: Often we have a strong opinion when a topic reminds us of our own childhood experience. Be curious about your own history with this item and tell your partner what this reminds you of, good or bad. For example: your partner forbids your teen from using any kind of profanity but you’re more forgiving. When you think back to your childhood, perhaps you were called a prude for following the rules. You think that if your child breaks a social norm once in a while, they’ll be more accepted by peers and this is part of the reason you’re okay with occasional swearing.
Raising children is one of the most challenging jobs we can have, but also the most important to work together on. If you feel your relationship needs help meeting this challenge, contact us at GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com or call 908-246-3074 to schedule an appointment.