“What should I do? Won’t my children be affected? My spouse thinks that parenting comes naturally”. Voiced in every parenting course that I teach, these are understandable concerns.
For some parents the changes feel like a threat or a criticism of their parenting style or even of the way they were parented. They say, “I turned out alright”.
Of course this is natural to feel unsettled when someone you love begins to change. So how can parents support each other rather than feel attacked or pressured to change, after all: “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”.
The ideal would be if both parents were on the same page in terms of parenting methods. The reality is we are individuals with different needs and values. Parents are told they must have a united front. Again the reality is that to do so would be ‘false’ and children quickly recognize this.
So here are some ideas if you wish to influence your spouse’s parenting style and at the same time accept your differences, bringing you closer together without creating a division:
- Discuss calmly and with interest each other’s parenting goals when you are relaxed and happy. Actively listen with a view to understanding your spouse rather than merely to come up with your next response of attack or blame. (The questions below will help this discussion).
- Role model the parenting methods you think are important. Your spouse will see the positive interactions you are having with your children.
- If you are learning new parenting skills and still in the early stages of changing:
- A) Share with your spouse why you are doing the parenting course. Share that you want to be the best parent you can be. Share that you are still learning the skills and would appreciate support in the early stages. You are doing this because you love your spouse and you love your children.
- B). Share the same with teenagers or pre-teens who are old enough. An audio version of the P.E.T. book has worked well for many parents either listening together or while travelling for the busy spouse.
- C) Encourage your spouse (and teens who are interested) to read the Parent Effectiveness Training book. An audio version of the P.E.T. book has worked well for many parents either listening together or while travelling for the busy spouse.
4. If your child tries to “play you off”, you can be supportive of your spouse’s needs. P.E.T. suggests saying to your child, “That is not a problem for me but it is for your mother/father right now, and his/her feelings are important to me, so you need to find a different solution”. Of course you can then assist your child to work out a solution.
Your proactive decision to parent in a certain way is underpinned by your chosen values and core beliefs about how you want your children to grow up. If you have never taken the time to think about this then you end up parenting reactively, based on the absorbed values or core beliefs of your parents and society. Do you really want this? In my opinion what appears natural is learned, and needs to be questioned and refined.
A great starting point for parents to open up helpful discussion about parenting styles is to answer two questions. Independently record your responses then share.
- What characteristics would I like my children to have by the time they reach adulthood?
- What characteristics are important for me to be the best parent I can be?
You will probably be surprised how similar your responses are. Next ask the important questions: Is the way I am currently parenting bringing out the characteristics I want for my child and for me as a parent? What would I like to change?
Parents often fear losing control of their children and often try to control with punishment and authoritarian means. Using controlling parenting methods often leads to children rebelling against parents sooner or later. Using controlling methods to change your spouse likewise leads to a defensive or rebellious response. Choose positive energy to be a role model and a consultant to your spouse rather than nagging them to change with negative energy.
In a Parent Effectiveness Training course parents learn skills to effectively handle their different feelings, needs, beliefs and values, with each other and their children.