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The importance of a united front
Parents need to agree on the right course of action for their children.
Originally published in the Moultrie News.
My wife and I disagree about our daughter, and it’s affecting my daughter’s attitude. I’ll say she can’t go somewhere until she finishes homework, then her mother lets her go. I’ll take her phone, her mom will give it back. It’s making my daughter hate me. What can I do?
You have to convince your wife that a united front is in everyone’s best interest. Otherwise, it will damage the family and turn your daughter into a certified princess (not the good kind).
Parents need to agree on the right course of action for their children, and once a decision is made, both should support it totally. That’s what it means to put forth a united front, and it’s essential in helping children grow into thriving, high-character adults.
As any parent should know, a big part of the job is ensuring that kids don’t always get everything they want. This helps them distinguish right from wrong, teaches them to respect boundaries, keeps them safe, and instills self-discipline. It also helps prevent them from becoming spoiled brats.
So continually issuing split decisions is one of the worst things parents can do. Suppose Dad tells his daughter her shorts are too short, then Mom says they aren’t. Or suppose a parent decrees “two weeks without a phone,” and the other parent slips it back the next day. These situations teach kids that there are no roadblocks to getting their way; there are only speed bumps and detours— or, worse, mean people and useful people.
But suppose Dad says, “You can’t go out tonight.” Then the daughter turns to Mom, who says, “If your Dad says you can’t, then you can’t.” This may trigger a useless tantrum, but in the long run, it teaches the child to adapt to inconveniences. It shows her that no means no.
Putting forth a united front requires pre-parenting. You have to discuss rules and boundaries before there’s a crisis, not make things up individually as you go.
And if you can’t agree on the boundaries, you must at least agree to back each other up. If mom says no, then dad needs to say no, too, no matter how crazy he thinks mom’s decision is. This will teach the child that rules actually apply to her, and she can’t just run to another authority figure to obtain a more desirable decision.
There are lots of reasons parents fail to put forth a united front. Sometimes they legitimately disagree on the course of action. In that case, they must compromise, like adults are supposed to do.
Often the reason one parent undermines another is dependence on feelings over doing what’s best for the child’s long-range development: Mom might feel pity for the child Dad has punished. Or maybe she’s just trying to induce cheap adoration from the child; it’s easier to be adored when you’re the “good guy.”
Such emotional reactions, however, eventually turn you from a parent into a tool. Children rarely respect overindulgent parents. They become conditioned to offer superficial devotion only when your services are desired. That’s the definition of a spoiled brat, and it’s often catalyzed by a divided front.
Divided fronts teach kids that relationships are a tangle of recourses. They lead kids to look for cracks and loopholes. United fronts teach them that relationships require compromise and shared values, always with the best interests of others in mind.
To convince your wife to agree to a united front, I suggest sharing with her how it can strengthen your family. When spouses disagree on parenting decisions, it causes conflict, and constant conflict is cancerous to families. Divided fronts also encourage children to have tiered respect for parents, even to love one parent more than the other; imbalances of that nature are equally cancerous. They’re not much different than when parents favor one child over the other.
The united front has power because it helps detoxify the family of conflict and imbalances, providing moms, dads, and kids with the emotional security that only a stable family can provide. Parents should make employing it among their highest priorities.
Read original column here.
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