Bobby, age 3, is throwing sand at kids in the park. After repeated warnings that the child will have to go home if he doesn’t stop, Bobby starts screaming and continues to throw sand. Dad grabs Bobby and is ready to put him in the car and take him home. Bobby’s Mom thinks this is too harsh and suggests they divert him with a snack. Dad says ‘no, we’re leaving now’ and the argument breaks out – A familiar scene?
A house divided cannot stand – Abraham Lincoln.
Children cannot flourish in an unharmonious environment. They need the security of being with parents who are of one voice and are respectful and consistent with each other. And the younger the child is, the more critical this is.
How A Child Sees It
Young children (those six and younger) are easily confused when one parent has different rules from the other, or when one parent enforces the rules and the other does not. At this age, children tend to see the world in ‘black and white’ – in absolute terms. Their little brains aren’t yet capable of resolving discrepancies between two opposing views – especially when the opposing views are coming from Mom and Dad, whom they see as their authority. They can’t understand why Dad says one thing and Mom says something else. To them, there can be only one “right” way to do things. Imagine how confusing this is to them when you and your spouse don’t present a united front. You don’t want your child to see one of you as the right parent and the other as the wrong one. Over time, not only will this undermine your child’s respect for the parent who is typically on the wrong side of things, but it undermines ALL of your parental authority. Why should a child listen to parents who can’t agree on how to deal with him?
Talk It Over Later
In a situation like the one above, when you’re dealing with very young children, and you don’t have the time or opportunity to ‘discuss’ what you will do, and one parent has had to step in and ‘lay down the law’ – DO NOT undermine that action. Dad made a decision. If Mom doesn’t agree with that decision, then later, out of earshot of the child, they should discuss what happened. But NEVER undermine each other in front of your child.
One Voice Is Always Important
The need to see the world in such black-and-white terms gradually disappears between the ages of six and eleven. But even at these older ages, the need for ‘one voice’ is still extremely important.
As Your Child Gets Older
If your child is old enough to understand that two people can disagree and both be right, there’s no problem telling your child that the two of you disagree but have made a decision on some other basis (it is the safer option, it mattered much more to one parent than the other, it will make one parent’s life easier, and so on). This will teach your child important lessons about the need for compromise in healthy relationships.
Working as a team is so vital when it comes to parenting, even if you’re on opposite sides of the fence. Whether your instinct is to say yes every time and Dad errs towards the negative, or you like to negotiate compromises and Dad thinks his word should be law, it’s important your kids don’t catch you disagreeing – especially when it’s about THEM! The ideal situation is to take disagreements into the privacy of your bedroom, or another room and don’t emerge until you have a united front to present.
They Talk The Way They Hear
Arguing in front of the children is worse than simply disagreeing. Arguments cause anxiety in our children and diminish their respect for us. Furthermore, if parents can argue with one another, what’s stopping the child from arguing back? We don’t want to teach our children that arguments are a desirable form of communication. And never, ever, ever talk to your spouse in a degrading, disrespectful way! This can create extreme problems with security, confidence, authority, and self-image issues for your child.
It’s Not About Winning
Put your child’s welfare first. Don’t let your ego get in the way or make it a contest of will. This is not about winning and losing. It’s about doing the right thing and acting in a way that models the kind of behavior you want your children to learn.
Talk To Each Other
Disagreements are inevitable, but constant disagreement and conflicts aren’t healthy. You might disagree on the specific methods you use to raise your child but at the end of the day, you both want to raise a good kid who makes the right choices and grows into a responsible and successful adult. So talk to each other about how you want to work together to be the best parents you can be. Your child will one day thank you by becoming a happy, confident, joyful person!