Saturday, February 24, 2007

Parenting as a Team

Parenting As A Team

Planning whom to marry is probably one of life’s most difficult tasks. What criteria do you use to make such a decision? I would suggest that the choice of a marriage partner is not as important as the choice of the partner you have children with. Marriage if troubled, can find a conclusion in divorce. However you are bound for the rest of your life to the person with whom you share children. You may get a divorce from your children’s other parent, but you must interact with them for the remainder of your life if you want your children to have a viable family after a divorce. Divorce ends a marriage; it does not end a family. Responsible parents, who need to get divorced while they have underage children, do so because they wish to save the family the burden created by a painful marriage. There is no more important task than parenting, and yet there is no training available for parents who unfortunately do not need to prepare before creating children.

I have watched over the past 25 years parenting styles change from being lenient, to strict, back to lenient, then back again to strict. Soft love, tough love, compassionate boundary setting, harsh discipline, it all changes from time to time. I have heard all sorts of experts tell us how to be a good parent. But parenting styles differ, and the secret to having a healthy family is in cooperating with each other as parents when guiding your children.

Where do you go to learn how to be an effective parent? We only have general principles to assist us in the task of parenting. For example, the most important rule of parenting is ‘love your children’. But it is pointless to state this, because parents either love or don’t love their children, and all the preaching in the world will not create parental love. Parental love occurs instantly at birth for the vast majority. We call this primal bonding. Some parents find love for a child at a later stage, if that parent is temporarily troubled and disoriented. But some parents are so emotionally disturbed that they never find love for their children. Such parents force their children to become their own parent and to learn to love themselves without parental love as a foundation.

Another general principle about parenting is ‘children need boundaries’. But who is to say where are the boundaries. A liberal household will have fewer boundaries than a conservative family. Is one right and the other wrong? How much control should a parent have? When do you begin to allow the child to make their own decisions, and when do you allow them to accept the consequences of their behavior? These are tough questions and the answers are varied. Parenting as a team necessitates that both of you agree on the broad framework of these issues.

Another basic principle about parenting is ‘children need attention and support while growing up’. But too much attention in the teen years can be very controlling, creating disobedience and defiance, while too little attention can produce humans who are hungry for love and then search for that love in all the wrong places. When do you surrender control and guidance, and when do you insert yourself right in the middle of their lives? Again, parents need to have general consensus in this area if you are going to work as a team teaching your children.

Parents in a troubled marriage will need to keep as much of the differences between them to private discussions. Children who sense that their parents do not respect each other will attempt to divide and conquer, thus invalidating their parents as their guides. This sets up a confusing family atmosphere. Better to be in some form of agreement around parenting values, even when two adults who share the responsibility of children cannot get along in other areas. Save your disagreements for private, and attempt to be a team even though you do not respect and like each other.

Parenting is a task no one is adequately prepared for, nor adequately trained for. Life does not begin with an owner’s manual. We are left to struggle with these issues. When we accept this, we have the best chance at being successful in the parenting game. It is normal for humans to feel overwhelmed by the task, uncertain how to proceed, and unsure that you are doing the right thing. But it is imperative that parents find as much agreement with each other as possible when dealing with their children.

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