Sara's father refuses to let her go to a party. Sara proceeds to ask her mother, describing the party in terms she feels her mom would not object to. Her mother gives the green light and Sarah goes back to her father proclaiming her mother's decision. Dad feels undermined but gives in.
Sara knows that her parents think differently about parenting issues and she uses this knowledge to manipulate her parents, playing them off one another to get what she wants.
Bobby, age 5, is throwing sand at kids in the park. After repeated warnings that the child will have to go home if he doesn't stop, Bobby's mother is ready to take him home. Bobby's dad thinks this is too harsh and suggests they divert him with lunch. Dad can't bear to hear Bobby screaming and is prone to give in, while Mom wants to be consistent with what she says.
Whatever the issue is, a united front is essential for parents. We need to speak to our children with one voice, which means agreement on the method we use to raise our children.
The importance of speaking with one voice is seen in the episode of the rebellious son in Deuteronomy 21:18. Here we have a child who is a child who is on a path to self-destruction. But if the parents did not speak with one voice, the Torah says that the child cannot be considered a refractory son and he is not convicted.
Rabbi Hirsh explains: "If there is not complete agreement between the parents in bringing up their children, then the failure of the child is no proof of the moral badness of his nature. Under a truly better system of education on the part of the father and mother, the child might perhaps have been different, and where the parents failed, life and experience may succeed in bettering."
The Torah is teaching that being of one mind and one voice in the parenting arena is essential to our children's well being. The court looks not only at the child's behavior but also at the parents' role in how the child came to be who he is.
Children cannot flourish in an unharmonious environment.
Children cannot flourish in an unharmonious environment. They need the security of being with parents who are of like mind and like method when it comes to parenting.
Children of divorced parents also need this security, perhaps even more so than children with two parents at home. Any insecurity they feel over the divorce is only magnified if the parents argue about how they are handling the children. Divorced parents therefore have an incredible challenge. Having a unified approach to childrearing is often extremely difficult in situations of divorce and yet, if we put our children's needs above our own emotions, we can try to do our best to agree on the major issues.
KEEP YOUR DISAGREEMENTS PRIVATE
What can we do practically? Parents should try to agree on disciplinary methods used and not argue about them in front of the children. If we do disagree, we should hash it out our differences in private so we can present a united front to our children. Otherwise, our children will learn to play us off one against the other, going to the more lenient parent with their requests, and circumventing the other parent.
Children should learn that when one parent makes a decision, they cannot go to the other parent hoping for a different answer. In the example above, Sarah asks her mom if she can go to the party after Dad has already said no. When Mom hears that Dad has already said no, it is best for her to support his opinion and tell her child she cannot ask parent #2 after parent #1 has already given an answer.
The best approach, however, is for Dad to have said, "I'll discuss it with your mother." This way we avoid problems and our children know we present a united front
When we disagree in front of our children we undermine our authority.
When we disagree in front of our children we undermine our authority. The children see our doubts and our differences, our position is weakened and children have a harder time listening to us. Why should a child listen to parents who can't agree on how to deal with him?
Some parents think it is positive for a child to see them disagree and to hear how they come to agreement on an issue. It teaches children the art of conflict resolution. While it may be true that parents can teach this skill, it is not wise to do so through discussions over how to handle the children.
Arguing in front of the children is worse than simply disagreeing. Arguments cause anxiety in our children and diminish their respect for us. Furthermore, if parents can argue with one another, what's stopping the child from arguing back? We don't want to teach our children that arguments are a desirable form of communication.
The ideal situation is to take disagreements into the privacy of your bedroom and don't emerge until you have a united front to present. Even if you come to a decision which one parent is unhappy with, don't let the child know. Mom shouldn't say secretly to her daughter, "I sided with you, but Dad won."
Put the child's welfare first. When we disagree we have to ask ourselves, "What is best for the child?" We shouldn't let our egos get in the way or make it a contest of will. It's not about winning and losing. It is about trying to do the right thing. When it comes to decisions that are not that important, it is very commendable for one parent to give in for the sake of harmony in the home.
GIVING REASONS FOR DECISIONS
Don't give too many reasons nor allow the child to argue about your decision.
Do we have to give reasons to our children for our decisions? Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch says that we should explain the reasons for our demands and restrictions so that the child will not think that our decisions are the result of our obstinacy and learn to be obstinate himself (Judaism Eternal, Volume 1 p. 230) But don't make the mistake of giving too many reasons or allowing the child to argue about your decision. One reason should suffice. If the child does start to argue, use what Lee Canter calls "the broken record technique"(Assertive Discipline for Parents, p. 18). Here's how it works:
Molly's dad refused to let her go out wearing something he felt was not providing enough cover. Mom thought it wasn't so bad but decided to support her husband. Molly tried to engage her mother in a discussion around this:
Molly: Mom, why can't I wear it?
Mom: Your father feels it to too revealing and I agree. We'd like to see you in something that doesn't call so much attention to your body. It could be asking for trouble.
Molly: But Mom it's not that bad.
Mom: I am sorry honey.
Molly: All the girls dress like this. Nobody thinks anything bad about them. It's just the style.
Mom: I understand, but we have made our decision.
Molly: Well what kind of trouble do you think I am going to get into? Don't you trust me?
Mom: We have made our decision, honey. Please go and change.
In this exchange, Mom gives one reason and then stops. She doesn't get herself drawn into a whole discussion or argument. Molly attempts to change her mother's mind, but Mom succeeds in holding her ground by repeating that they have made their decision.
We give children a reason for our decisions to show them that we are reasonable and that we have their best interest in mind. The child should not, however, feel that if he can find fault with the reason and has legitimate grounds to argue with us. He doesn't have to like the reason.
ANTICIPATE FUTURE ISSUES
It is best for parents to develop a plan together of how to deal with difficult issues. Don't be caught off guard. When you know something is coming up that you need to discuss with your spouse, do so now so you can present a united front when the time comes.
Carol has always been more religiously inclined than her husband Sam. It means a lot to her to have the children home on Friday nights to have a family Shabbat dinner. So far it has been working out well but now one of their sons is trying out for the varsity football team in high school, which means Friday night games. Carol knows that Sam is likely to give in to football and feels a lot of anxiety over the potential change in the family routine. Now is the time for Carol and Sam to discuss their feelings and to try to find a mutually agreeable plan so they will know how to speak to their son.
SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS
- Try to present a united front to your children
- Don't allow children to go to the other parent after one parent has already given an answer.
- Avoid the problem above by saying, "I'll discuss it with your father/mother."
- Don't disagree or argue in front of your children regarding parenting issues. Work them out in private.
- Give children a reason for your decision but don't allow them to draw you into an argument over it.
- Try the "broken-record" technique.
- Anticipate future contentious issues and start discussing them now.