Why is parenting as a team so hard and how can we make it easier?
One of the questions I hear the most from families is how to be allies along their parenting journey. "How can we parent as a team?"
A good place to start in answering this question is defining what is getting in the way for this to happen? It's important to recognise that we all have our own ways of coping during an emotional trigger.
When kiddos are tantruming or hitting it takes an emotional toll on the adult as well. This can stimulate a stressor in the brain leading us to feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or confused.
Some individuals may have a bit more flexibility when it comes to coping with tantrums, defiance and disobedience than others. For example, person A may spill coffee on their shirt, curse under their breath and find themselves taking out their frustration on the person closest to them. How many of you can relate to this?? (raises hand!!)
While person B may spill coffee, sigh in annoyance and go change their shirt if possible, carrying on about their day. Person A and B are not much different. They have both experienced something challenging but have found different avenues for coping.
Handling defiant behaviours as parents can be the same. While each parent experiences the same event, they bring their own avenues for coping into the situation.
What's more is they may experience different beliefs. Person A believed that spilling their coffee was a big deal and would effect the rest of their day. While person B believed there were much more important things to be doing than stressing over a stain.
The question is: which are you? Does it depend on the day and your mood? Or are you overall one or the other?
Now, let's take this in context with parenting by replacing the stressor of spilling coffee with defiance.
Person A experiences defiance and believes that children should respect their parents and never talk back. This belief places them in a position of dominance over the behaviour and they say, "You will not talk like that in MY house!" The child begins to cry and Person A sends them to their room.
Person B experiences defiance and believes that children behave defiantly when their brains feel helpless or out of control. They choose to relate to their child's emotions and remain calm until they are able to choose the next best step forward. Person B benefits immediately from this belief and comes up with a solution. They offer their child a choice which instantly boosts their self esteem and relevance while still remaining allies and getting things done.
Person A focuses on punishment and rewards to shape behaviour, in this example they used time out to try to force their child to listen.
Person B focuses on the child's brain and understands there is more to the picture than consequences. They focused on their own regulation first and then chose the best step forward.
Notice how each parent may have eventually yielded similar results. Person A's child might have agreed to listen following their time out. Person B's child agreed to listen once they felt like part of the solution. This is where everything gets tricky.
BOTH parents may feel motivated to continue in their approach based on the results. Person A feels more in control and Person B feels more connected.
I believe that this is why parenting on the same page can be so difficult. So, what's the answer? How do we get back on the same page when we parent so differently?
All change begins with communication.
Set aside time to discuss your individual approaches to challenges. How is your overall response to stress and pressure? This is a good place to start.
Raising kids is very personal. If your partner/spouse/ex believes that you are about to correct their parenting decisions they may avoid the topic or become defensive. Instead, open a conversation about regulating emotions and go from there.
"When the kids are acting out, I walk away for a minute to calm down. What do you do?" for example. Using open ended questions encourages honesty and input.
I read the other day that when we are the angriest we are the stupidest! How true! Having chats about your emotions and ways you can calm down before making any parenting decisions may be more than enough to bridge that gap in your parenting styles.
Working as a team isn't always easy. It takes some self control on both sides. So, here are a few ways to get through the process in one piece. Plus a free download.
1. Ask yourself questions beginning with "How". So often when we face adversity we get caught up in internal "Why" questions. "Why won't he listen?", "Why is she so soft on the kids?", "Why is he always angry?" These "Why" questions have a way of burrowing deep and building on the problem. Subconsciously, we begin to find answers to the "Why" questions confirming our fears because that is what the brain does. It's role is to keep you safe and it does that putting space between yourself and a problem. However, in order to solve problems we have to present and face them. The brain resists this process because it doesn't feel good. A natural way to begin solving a problem is intentionally focusing on "How" questions. "How can I parent as a team?", "How I can help them see the bigger picture?", "How can I make this as easy and painless as possible?"
Key to remember: Asking "How" questions isn't always easy because it goes against the natural flow of your primal brain. This takes regulation and practice. But, the results are incredible.
2. Find commonalities so you can relate to your partner/spouse in the moment. "Yes, I agree. It is SO hard when they are fighting. I get annoyed too sometimes." It is important to share that common ground as a place to start. Imagine if you went into the conversation saying, "What?? I am never annoyed! They are just children!!" Your other half may find that a difficult spot to be in and feel threatened. As soon as we feel alienated we disconnect and shut down...or we fight back and an argument begins (good ole fight/flight). Focus on what you have in common and relate to your partner/spouse. I promise this will put you in a much better place to begin a meaningful conversation.
3. Share and receive ideas. This is where the real work can finally begin. Once you are allies you can really explore the nitty gritty of what is behind those big emotional reactions to defiance, fighting and tantrums. Use reasoning with your partner/spouse to guide the conversation. "What do you think about when I did this...? Would you be willing to try that as well?", "What do you think about how you reacted this time...?", "Why do you think they are fighting? How do you think we can help them get along better?" etc. Going back to open ended questions that really spur conversations forward.
Lastly, some families benefit from having support. Finding the right balance for your parenting is a unique experience for every family.
What do you think of my tips? How do you go with parenting as a team with your partner/spouse/ex? I'd love to hear your key tips! Grab your bonus download.
About the author
Stephanie Wicker is a child behaviour expert, parenting educator, counsellor and speaker - who has successfully guided families through early childhood for over 15 years. Through her experience with private consultancy, as a preschool teacher and special needs therapist - she has worked across the many facets of early childhood behaviour.
Stephanie's evidence-based programs are grounded in behaviour science and her passion for Relational Frame Theory (RFT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and developmental psychology all play a big role in her programs.
Stephanie’s experience covers early intensive behaviour intervention programs for children with special needs and for families newly diagnosed. She hosts live training events all over Australia, where she shares her practical solutions and language techniques, along with providing private, in-home therapy sessions for those seeking more personalised support.
Through her company, Simply Kids she provides family resources such as digital books and educational activities, designed to keep behaviour simple.
"By helping parents place emphasis on connection, empowerment and encouragement, I believe that all children have the ability to reach their full potential." - Stephanie Wicker