It is often said that “You don’t know somebody until you live with them.” We reject that notion, and, offer, instead, the following: “You don’t know somebody until you raise a child with them.”
Let’s consider a hypothetical example. A newlywed couple disagrees about which curtains to buy, so they have a discussion to resolve the disagreement. Fast forward four years. That same husband has a disagreement with his wife about his insistence on using corporal punishment with their 3-year-old, but instead of having a “discussion,” the Mama becomes “Mama-Bear,” defends her child voraciously, and Daddy has to sleep with one eye open from now on. Fortunately, of course, this is just a hypothetical example.
When two adults meet and become romantically involved, there are three entities (i.e., the man, the woman, and the marriage). When a child arrives, there are seven entities (i.e., the man, the woman, the marriage, the child, the father’s relationship to the child, the mother’s relationship to the child, and the child’s relationship to the marriage). When two children arrive, there are twelve entities in the family. You can see that the “family dynamic” is indeed dynamic!
When raising a child with another person it is crucial to remain aware of these complexities, and it is crucial to strive for some reasonable level of agreement between parents on important matters of child-rearing. What we call “PAIRenting.” Clearly, it is very easy when two parents have complete agreement on an issue, but when there is disagreement, that’s when the “drama” begins. It can be argued that in “PAIRenting” it is your obligation to strive for “Total Agreement” or an “Agreement to Disagree,” and it is important to avoid spending time on the “Road to Resentment.” Where do you land (or fall) in terms of agreement with your partner about child-rearing? Here are your options:
___ “Total Agreement”
Total Agreement most often occurs with issues of health and safety. This also occurs after one parent convinces the other of a position or view on a given topic.
___ “Agree to Disagree”
When parents have opposite views and simply refuse to change their position, it is important to try to have an “Agreement to Disagree.” It is often said that, “You do not need to be disagreeable when you disagree.” You can arrive at this good place if you first respect your partner as person, and then understand that reasonable people can have reasonable disagreements. It is also helpful to remember that, even though you and your partner disagree, you both are motivated by your love for the child that you share. For example, let’s say it’s raining on the day of Junior’s soccer game. Mommy wants Junior to stay home from the game because she doesn’t want him to get sick, while Daddy wants Junior to go to the game so that Junior will get “tough” and become a stronger player. Even though Mommy and Daddy have completely different views, they are both motivated by their love for Junior. If Mommy and Daddy have a base level of mutual respect for each other as people, and then they remind each other that they feel how they do because they love Junior, then it will be much easier to have this disagreement without being disagreeable (or disrespectful), and then one of the two would be more willing to “give in” on this particular issue (so that everyone wins).
___ “Disagree, but Discuss/Resolve it (1) later when your child is NOT present, and (2) without holding onto resentment”
This is like a “first-come, first-served” rule for parents. When Mommy engages Junior about a particular behavior, Daddy may disagree, but Daddy has arrived too late and needs to let Mommy finish without challenging her authority. Again, as with “Agree to Disagree,” this option requires that the PAIRents first have respect for each other as people, and then remember that both parents are motivated by love for their child. The disagreement should indeed be discussed, but it is important to discuss it after the incident is over, when Junior is not present. Waiting a little while to have the discussion minimizes the chance of having intense negative emotions contaminate the conversation, and it also eliminates the possibility of Junior witnessing one of his parents undermine the authority of the other.
___ “The Road to Resentment: Disagree, argue in front of Junior, and hold onto negativity”
This is a miserable option, but sadly, overused. To avoid rambling down the “Road to Resentment” it is important to go back to our consideration of the many entities involved in child rearing (e.g., mom, dad, the marriage, mom’s relationship with Junior, dad’s relationship with Junior, Junior’s relationship to the marriage). Which entity is given priority? Which entity do you want to have priority?