I was recently working with a set of parents who were frustrated with each other because of how the other was parenting. The father was very task oriented and was continually “hounding” (according to mom) their son to clean his room, do his homework, get off the computer, to do something with his life besides playing video games, etc. The father quickly shot back that mother was too permissive and didn’t follow through with consequences, that she was too lenient. Each of the parents looked at me hoping I would take their side and prove to the other who was right.
My years of experience have taught me that this was dangerous ground and I had better maintain neutrality or else I would have one very upset parent and the other thinking they were the parent of the year. I knew the best option was to help the parents find common ground. I asked the mother why she thought dad “hounded” his son. She struggled with trivial answers such as, “he gets so annoyed” or “he is just grumpy,” etc. I pressed her harder and she began to come around. “He is trying to teach him to be responsible.” I turned to the father and he quickly acknowledged that was correct. I then asked the father what his wife was trying to teach their son by her approach to parenting. He started by saying that she doesn’t want to be the bad guy, and was about to say something else. He quickly saw by the look on my face and the face of his wife that he was clearly on the wrong track and had better get back on course. “She is trying to make sure that he feels loved.” Now that both parents had acknowledged each others’ point of view I could begin to work with these good parents by trying to unify them in their parenting approach. I asked the father if he wanted his son to feel loved to which he responded affirmatively. I asked the mom if she wanted her son to learn responsibility. “Well, yes I would just …” I stopped her before the thought got us derailed. I asked both parents what their goal for their son was to which they responded graduation from high school and securing a job. I expressed that in order to achieve that goal their son needs to feel loved to have confidence to do those things.
“Why do you want these things for him?” I pressed. This is one of those times I could tell the parents were deep in contemplation. They really didn’t know what to answer quite yet. “To be happy,” the father stated quietly, hoping it was the right answer. From there we able to start the process of unifying the parents in their parenting approaches. There began to be some synergy as they built off these common goals for their son. It was a privilege to watch these two parents work in unison, giving up their agendas and defensive tactics for the greater good of helping their son be happy. They came up with further ideas and strategies to parent their son better together. By the end of the session they had come up with a strategic course of action that would rival any strategic business plan, all because they were able to find common ground.
All too often parents are rarely on the same page in regards to what they are trying to teach their children. However, they allow defensiveness, criticism and contempt to blind themselves from finding the principles they hold in common. Parents need to council together and identify the principles they are trying to teach their children. This approach to parenting has proven to be successful. Parents who identify the values and principles they are trying to teach their children have a head start in parenting teenagers. Even better are those who identify the values and principles and then carefully craft their parenting strategies to assist them in this endeavor.