It Takes Two to Tangle

Sep 26, 2013

There were never two parents raising the same child anywhere who ever agreed entirely about how to do it.  When adults care about the same child, a certain amount of “gatekeeping” is bound to happen, in which each adult thinks he or she knows best about how to parent. 

Here’s an example:  Adam says, “Eve, you should make that boy behave.”  Eve says, “Adam, he’s doing the best he can. Quit riding him all the time.”  Years down the road, Cain slays Abel, and the finger-pointing commences.  “I told you we were doing it wrong!”

Except for the story about the apple and the snake, Adam and Eve appear to have gotten along well enough to begin to populate the world.  But how do disagreements between parents play out when parents have fallen out of harmony?

About half of US children live with only one parent at some point, but often another parent is involved in their lives, often following a divorce.  So when they face these very natural disagreements regarding their children, their situation carries the added edge of a failed relationship.

While married parents must work out their disagreements, divorced parents instead often assign blame for their child’s problem to the other parent.

Every child learns how to play parents against each other, in what have become classic ploys, like “If Mom says no, ask Dad.”  But children of divorce play this game with a loaded pistol.  Such jockeying between divorced parents is a risky game, and kids know it. 

Yet the same communication rules between married spouses also work for exes.  Divorced parents can talk calmly, listen, and keep their conversations child-focused.  If they can schedule time away from kids to talk openly about strategies, they may find they can be more supportive of each other’s efforts.

Raising kids is challenging enough, but hard feelings between parents adds stress for parents and kids alike.  Co-parenting with someone you chose not to live with requires grace and magnanimity.  But the payoff is the happy, healthy adults both parents want to produce.