One of the biggest challenges that I work through with parents is what they can do when their partner isn’t on the same page. Each one of us brings our own history into our relationships. We have well established beliefs about how children should behave, how children should be treated, and what it means to be a good parent. As our children grow and we find ourselves challenged in new ways, the incongruities in belief systems within our family begin to surface and create tension that didn’t exist before.
So what can you do if you and your partner have different beliefs about parenting? How can you help them see the value in your parenting style? How can you get them on board if they refuse to listen?
You are not alone.
This is the source of tension in many, many families. If you find yourself navigating this in your own relationship, the first thing you need to know is that you are not alone! Then, take a few minutes to read through these suggestions and consider how they might be applied in your situation.
Becoming partners in parenting requires a mindset shift.
So often when we find ourselves in conflict about how to handle a challenging situation, we focus on what we can do to bring our partner onto our side. We research, we come up with logical explanations, and we try to convince them. I’m going to ask you to take a step back from this. Instead of trying to convince them, or trying to get them to understand your perspective, experiment with trying to engage them as a problem solving partner. I want to be very clear, though, that if your partner is harming your children in any way, this article is not for you. If you are in an abusive relationship, do what you need to do to keep yourself and your children safe. If your child’s safety is not in question, keep reading.
Focus on a specific, urgent challenge.
When we are trying to get our partners on the same page, we tend to focus on what they are doing that needs to change. It can plague us. Part of this mindset shift is focusing instead on the most pressing challenge we are facing as a family.
If getting your preschooler into the car is a challenge for you, for example, shift your focus away from the fact that it’s an ordeal that always ends with shouting and threats. Focus instead on the fact that the transition is challenging for your child and everyone else involved, and try to understand why.
Engage in a proactive conversation with your partner.
Choose a time when you and your partner are both feeling calm and receptive and tell them you need their help finding a solution to this particular challenge. State the problem as you’ve observed it, and ask them for their take on it.
You might say, “I’ve noticed that getting everyone into the car has been particularly challenging lately. What do you think is going on?”
Do your best to set aside any defensiveness you may feel and really listen. Then, reflect back to them what you’re hearing. Do what you can to identify and acknowledge their concerns. This is important because you’re going to be working together to find a solution to the challenge that addresses both of your concerns.
State your concerns and invite them to collaborate.
After you have listened and acknowledged your partner’s concerns, clearly state your concerns about the situation. The important thing to remember here is that you’re not raising concerns about your partner’s behavior, you’re focusing on the situation. So you’re not saying, “My concern is that you always start yelling and it just leads to more tears and frustration for everyone.” Instead, you might say, “I can see that you are wanting to support our child in developing the motivation to get into the car quickly so we aren’t always running late. Being late is a concern of mine, too, but I’m even more concerned about the overwhelm and stress that we are all experiencing every time we get into the car. I’m hoping we can work together to solve this problem in a way that addresses both of our concerns.” You’d then ask them if they have any ideas.
Listen to and acknowledge their ideas.
Many of us find ourselves in this situation because we already have a solution in mind. Offering up a solution without listening for input hasn’t served us well thus far, so we need to focus on listening and acknowledging this time around. If the solution they propose does not address your concerns, point that out after you acknowledge the thought and consideration that went into their idea. Now you can offer a suggestion or ask them if they can think of another idea that would address both of your concerns. Be prepared to be flexible and willing to adapt. These conversations rarely follow a script, and by keeping your focus on collaboration rather than convincing, you’re much more likely to come to a solution.
Consider inviting your child into the conversation.
Most of the challenges we face as families can’t be truly resolved unless the concerns of all parties are being addressed. If we are problem solving as a parenting team, we run the risk of coming up with a solution that works for us, but doesn’t address our child’s concerns. Once you’ve started shifting to a more collaborative, problem-solving approach with your partner, it will likely be worthwhile to invite your child into the conversation and involve them in the problem solving process.
After discussing the situation as partners, we may feel like we’ve found the solution. It may be tempting to just tell our child what we’ve come up with. You will face much less resistance, though, if you follow the same strategy you used with your partner. Allowing your child to tell you what their experience is and state their concerns, sharing your concerns, then asking them if they have any ideas about how you, as a family, could do things differently before you tell them your idea will shift the dynamic.
You know your child best. Use your judgement and decide if having a one on one conversation would be best, or if you can work together as a family to come up with a satisfactory solution.
Be willing to revisit the conversation later.
Part of working together to solve a problem is reconvening to assess whether the solution you came up with is working. You’ve got to be willing to have more conversations in the future, and you’ll have to continue to listen attentively and work collaboratively to find a solution.
This is a rough guide. Every relationship has its own nuances, and it’s possible that you may need an approach that’s more tailored to your situation. This is exactly the type of work that we’re doing in my membership community, Compass Rose.
One of the biggest benefits of joining Compass Rose is the monthly group coaching call. If you need a little bit of extra support finding ways to problem solve collaboratively with your partner, that’s something we can work through together.
Want to check out one of our group coaching calls for free? Sign up for the VIP Wait List and we’ll send you sneak peeks of all of the resources available to Compass Rose members, and an exclusive invitation to join in on one of our coaching calls.