Eight (Scary) Reasons to STOP FIGHTING Over Parenting Issues
Chances are you and your partner have disagreed over the best way to raise your children. But don’t make it a habit. Parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba says being on different “parenting pages” is highly detrimental to your kids, your marriage, and your own mental health.
Parenting: it’s the toughest, most important job in the world.
It’s exhausting, stressful, and infinitely rewarding — and it usually takes a team effort to be done effectively and efficiently. That’s right. Whether your family set-up is traditional or not, the job is best done with two people who are on the same page. Ideally, Mom and Dad will lay down the law together and back each other up when the kids (inevitably) challenge their authority. Ideally. Here in the real world, of course, the parenting ship rarely sails along so smoothly.
“Mom and Dad are two different people,” says parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba. “They are the products of different parenting styles and maybe even different social and cultural backgrounds. From time to time, they’re going to disagree on appropriate rules and consequences. Not only does this division lead to marital spats, it’s detrimental to the kids. It leaves existing problems unresolved and creates new ones.”
Most parents know that children thrive on consistency. What we don’t always know is which guidelines we should hold them to consistently.
Borba says that parents may be surprised at just how early kids start to form habits (both good and bad). By the time they have figured out a way to parent together effectively, it’s often too late, and the damage has already been done. Oh, and if you assume the fights you and your spouse have about setting a bedtime or making your kids eat their vegetables aren’t a big deal, think again.
Before your next big blowout, Borba urges you to spend a little time considering the big problems that can result from fighting over your kids.
Inconsistency harms kids. Period. The golden rule of parenting is simple: consistency, consistency, consistency. When kids receive conflicting information, whether it is instructions from parents, expectations, or disciplinary measures, it confuses them and creates a situation that makes it impossible for them to learn what the rules are. Borba says that parents who disagree on child-raising issues have a much greater incidence of inconsistency with their children, which can set them up for bad behaviour and habits that last well into adulthood.
Your kids will lose their confidence…in you. To a child, parents are the ultimate source of comfort and guidance. No one has more confidence in you than your children do. When the parental unit in a household is weakened due to conflict, it can have a major impact on the children’s sense of confidence and safety. Borba says that parents are the main source of stability for kids, and when that stability is threatened it can have disastrous effects.
Not only will inconsistency make it harder to discipline your child, it can also make it much harder for parents to soothe a child who is upset or worried. If a child cannot trust in the stability that their parents should provide, it can really rock their world, and yours.
It leaves you susceptible to trendbased parenting (which is a big no-no). Nobody likes conflict, especially when it’s with your parenting partner. So it’s no surprise that many parents who disagree are looking for fast solutions to their problems. Not only do they want to help their kids — they want to stop fighting with their spouses, too! In turn, they’ll be more willing to accept trend-based parenting: quick and simple fixes to their kids’ problems. The trouble, says Borba, is that these solutions are rarely (if ever) effective, and they only temporarily solve the issues at hand.
“Grasping at trendy solutions can lead to what I call ‘extreme parenting,’” notes Borba. “One minute parents are letting kids have free reign, and the next they are cracking down and afraid to let go. Not only are the mixed signals confusing and frustrating for kids, when the problems end up resurfacing down the road, so do the arguments with your spouse.”
It zaps what little energy you have left. If you are a parent (or if you know someone who is), then you know how much energy it takes to raise children — not to mention running a household and holding down a job at the same time. When parenting arguments ensue, the fighting quickly drains what little energy you have left at the end of each day. This continued conflict depletes the parental energy source so that very little, if anything at all, gets accomplished.
It makes you feel powerless. Parents who feel unsupported by their spouse or co-parent can oftenn experience a dramatic sense of hoelessness and powerlessness. Not only do they feel incapable of solving problems with their children, they are also lacking
the support of their parenting partner, which Borba says can lead to many parents feeling too overwhelmed to move forward with finding solutions.
Parenting disagreements between spouses can also create a situation in which a lack of communication between parenting partners becomes common, which is detrimental to both the spousal and parenting relationships.
It leads to harmful alliances between parent and child. If you are embroiled in a conflict with your spouse over what you think is right for your kids, your protective instincts can make you more likely to feel like your children’s personal advocate rather than one-half of a parenting team. When you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye, particularly over an issue like an extended curfew or getting an allowance, it can be a natural tendency for one parent to ally themselves with the child, instead of with their parenting partner. Don’t do it, says Borba.
“Building an alliance with your child is a common, yet dangerous parenting mistake,” she asserts. “Doing so not only undermines the authority of the ‘opposing’ parent, it sets up a dynamic that encourages the kids to play you your spouse against one another in the future.”
It makes the institution of marriage even more challenging. Marriage is tough enough on its own: it takes a lot of hard work and negotiating to make it work. And when parents disagree about their children, it creates another marital conflict that has to be overcome.
Worse, arguing about your kids is sure to be more emotionally charged than your average marital bickering. Borba explains that when a couple can’t compromise and problem-solve in an effective way, it can put a heavy strain on their marriage — a ramification that’s unhealthy for every member of the family.
You’re more likely to get outsiders involved (which might only make the problems worse). When a couple finds themselves at a standstill on any parenting argument, each has a tendency to look for an outside source to back up his or her side of the argument.
Whether parents are turning to their own parents, friends, or co-workers for advice, Borba advises them to be wary of bringing in a third wheel.
“People have a natural tendency to turn to those whom they know will be their allies, and will assure them that their stance is right,” she says. “That often means calling your own mom or dad; after all, you’ve gotten the majority of your parenting skills from them, so chances are good that they won’t shoot you down. But involving anyone outside your relationship can cause your co-parent to feel betrayed and defensive.
And it may cause an even bigger conflict between your spouse and your family and friends.”
It’s okay to have differing opinions and perspectives, says Borba. In fact, it’s inevitable. But when it’s time to “agree to disagree,” it’s critical that you have an authoritative resource to which you can defer and also trust.
“It’s important for parents to remember that no matter what the argument, they are a team that is working together on the common goal of raising children to become confident, healthy, selfsufficient adults,” Borba says. “Being able to admit that you don’t have all the answers is a mature and very loving stance. By learning to communicate in a healthy, productive way, you’ll find that you’ll have happy, well-rounded kids and a healthy marriage.”
For more information, visit www.micheleborba.com. Sourced from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, September 2009, ISBN 978-0-7879-8831-9).