In marriage, life gives you enough challenges with decisions around finances, housework, employment, and in-laws. Even strong marriages have their difficult moments. When you have children together the layers of complexity only increase. While there is no joy like seeing a little version of you both running around the house, and while it is such fun to watch them grow from baby to toddler, toddler to kid, and kid to adolescent- making decisions on handle the tricky moments can be difficult. We are all raised differently, and we all have different expectations going into parenthood. Prior to becoming a parent, it is hard to know what to expect, and hard to plan what will become important. How do we handle it when Johnny talks back? When he gets a bad grade? When he is not kind to a friend? How do we handle it when he wants a cell phone? When he wants to go on a date? When it is time to purchase a vehicle or get a job? If you searched what to do, you can get five different answers. The reality is… what works for each child is different- and we often base how we parent on what worked for us as children. If you get stuck in ‘how do we handle this present situation’ it can lead to conflict, bitterness, and can hurt the trust and closeness of your marriage. So how do we handle it? A question I ask every parent as I start working with them is:
Step 1: What is important to you as a parent? If you child did ______ you know you succeeded. And vice versa- If you child did _______ you will feel you failed. This can bring out values like hard work, respect, clean, kind, humble, charity, faith, family, etc. that you value and you want to teach your child to value as well. This is where you start- what are your core values in parenting? What core values did your parents teach you? What ways do you want to do things differently than your parents? Talk about this together when there is not big decision or conflict. This can be as you go on a walk together, share coffee in the morning, or catch a breakfast out on a Saturday morning. Share, but also listen. Know, truly know what is important to your spouse and why. If you disagree- know why, know how. Be curious. “I see that differently can you help me understand why that is important to you?” rather than “That’s stupid, why in the world would you think that is okay?”
Step 2: In the moment when there is conflict or a big decision, fall back on those core values. For example: “I do not to buy Johnny a car because I want him to learn the value of earning it, feel successful when he does earn it, and learn to respect how much things cost. I feel he should have a small job first.” You can speak about your value and explain why you feel the way you do. If you disagree: sharing your value and hearing your spouses is a great way to start finding a solution.
Step 3: Accept that you will not agree on everything and that not agreeing DOES NOT mean that you can not love each other. You are two unique people with two difference life experiences. You can be different and be in-love. What impacts love is: do you feel heard, understood, and cared about? On the flip side- that also means you need to listen so they can feel heard too. In the moment is not the best time to have a conversation- challenging each other in front of the kids, especially when they are the one who needs a boundary- can teach the child to pin you both against each other to get their way. Let the starting parent finish. After the dust has settled start the talk with “Hey, can we talk about how that went… I am concerned about…” Create a game plan of when he does that this is how we both respond. This creates consistency for the child, and gets you both on the same page.
Step 4: If you cannot agree on a game plan… There will be solvable problems – you can find a common ground, both give a little, and find a solution. However, there are unsolvable problems in marriage, there cannot be a compromise: yes or no. The point is: find common ground when you can. And when you can’t it is about HOW you talk about it and less about the decision. I will elaborate on this more in my next blog!
Written by Erica Gregory, LMFT Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Owner of JCAC
Are these conversations explosive? Do you find yourself in the same pattern of argument no matter how it starts? It may be time for us to give you a hand! Schedule a time to talk with one of our counselors about couples therapy and how it can help!