By Fran Sherman, LCSW
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs some of us will ever have, and successful “co-parenting” – in any of its various forms – takes a lot of work.
Let’s be clear: We all make mistakes. But agreeing how to teach your kids, talk to your kids, discipline your kids and reward them always is a work in progress that often is met with lots of struggles but also with lots of joy.
Here’s a real-life example. You have your first child, and with that milestone come the first disagreements: do you let them cry in the crib, do you pick them up, do you let them sleep in your bed? The list goes on, and every family has its own wants and needs. Yet the most important thing to do early on is to present a united front because children learn to “split.’ If one parent is the disciplinarian and the other is “easy,” kids quickly learn that they can manipulate.
Parents need to maintain a united front and compromise.
I’ve been working in my practice with children whose parents have been divorced for years. Their parenting styles are different. The kids hear disagreement and negativity about each other. To the parents: Grow up. You’ve had your children, and even though you didn’t get along, your children don’t need to pay the price. Let them know that even though you’re no longer married, you’re still working together to give them what they need.
Kids need limits and boundaries so they know what’s expected of them, and those are things parents need to decide together. That needs to happen regardless of your family structure. Coparenting is as important in a traditional two-parent family as it is between divorced parents or in a domestic partnership.
Single parents? That’s a whole different issue.
I’ve worked with too many parents who argue all the time about parenting styles. They’re constantly at odds, and all that does is make their kids anxious because they’re trying to please both parents and, in that situation, the children can’t really please either one.
I advise parents to always be talking and communicating about how to raise their children, despite their individual circumstances. For those planning to have a child, talk about your own childhood, how you were raised and how you’d like things to go for your new family and utilize whatever skills work best.
It’s also very important to empower children by asking them what they think is fair and what they think consequences and rewards should be for their actions. You’ll be amazed at how often kids will be right on.
And for parents who are so lenient, and set no boundaries, you’re doing your children a great disservice because they don’t know if what they’re doing is right or wrong. At the other extreme — for parents who are so rigid or strict – kids often feel a need to rebel as they grow older. As they say, kids will find a way to do what they want to do.
It’s important to use feelings, words and to be open and honest as age-appropriate. Children will feel empowered, and they won’t want to disappoint you.
Parents always will disagree about certain things, but please try to disagree in private and come to an accommodation that you all can live with.