PARENTING AS A TEAM 

Many of us have a variety of parenting partners: spouses, ex-spouses, teachers, day care workers, religious educators, relatives, and neighbors we regularly visit. Each partner can have a parenting style that differs from ours. When parenting styles clash, resist the urge to overreact, interfere, rescue the child, or control the partner.

If we have a parenting partner with an opposite style, we can fall into an overcompensation cycle; one partner thinks the other is too strict, so he or she becomes more lenient to counteract the other. As this partner becomes more lenient, the other gets more strict. Each tries to compensate for the imbalances of the other and they seesaw back and forth. (Consider the balancing scale again. If you put two weights on the scale, where would you need to put them so the scale balances the quickest? Opposite ends create a seesaw effect. When each weight is close to the middle, the scale will balance more quickly.) Overcompensation cycles damage parenting partnerships and children learn how to manipulate better.

 

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Many of us, upon learning effective, balanced parenting skills, are concerned when others parent our children in ineffective ways. We often judge or criticize the person and preach about all we’ve learned. This causes the criticized person to become even more defensive and closed to learning new ideas. Whoever your parenting partners are, there are some ways you can work together as a team.

  • Talk to your partner about the parenting approach you have chosen. Explain that you want to work cooperatively. Ask your partner to read the book, just to “see what you think.” If it makes sense to both of you, you can use the information as a common language and starting point.
  • If your partner isn’t interested or is resistant and defensive, back off. Your main purpose in reading this book is to improve your relationship with your child. Your child will benefit from that improvement alone. When only one parent changes, it still changes the family system and each member adjusts. (Remember the ripple effect?) Often, the changed parent serves as a role model for the partner, which avoids criticism, lectures, and interference. When parenting partners see a positive change, they might try the skills, without even realizing they are changing. If not, their behavior choices are not your responsibility. Do what you believe is best for you and your child; don’t make it a divisive issue between you and your parenting partners. If your differences persist, be careful not to fall into old habits of overcompensating. (In Chapter 15, “The Three C’s,” there are additional suggestions in the “Inconsistent Parenting Partners” section, page 412. You can read these suggestions anytime.)

If you and your parenting partners can agree on a common style, discuss situations and options regularly. Talk often and encourage each other. Recognize times when each of you used the skills, rather than pointing out times when someone missed the mark. If you do discuss mistakes, focus on what was learned and brainstorm ideas for more effective responses, in case the situation arises again.

A Graduate’s Story. My sister and I attended the parenting class together, since we had our firstborn children within six months of each other. At the time of the class, our daughters were both two-years-old and we needed help just to survive the experience of child-rearing. Discussing the ideas and skills with her was very helpful, especially in times of crisis. We would observe the situation between our two girls, such as fighting over a toy, and put our heads together to plan the most effective response we could find, then do it and evaluate our results. If one of us fell back into an old habit, such as yelling, using guilt trips, or spanking, the other one would offer support and remind her that our children keep giving us chances to try again.

We felt silly huddling in a corner and talking “strategy” for a few extra seconds while our children were fighting in the next room, but we were so excited by the success of our new skills that it was well worth it. Now our girls are four years old, and we have adopted the strategies we learned over two years ago. We frequently receive comments about how delightful our children are and how well they play with others. We know that we owe it to the parenting skills we learned.

 

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT TOOLS

The first step in balancing our parenting style is to identify our imbalances. The next step is to become aware of and change the beliefs that cause the imbalances. Our beliefs are the result of what we were told, what we saw, and how we interpreted events as we were growing up. They are the little tapes that play in our minds, influencing our interpretation of situations and, therefore, our responses to them. Beliefs can be positive or negative, accurate or inaccurate. Consequently, what we believe about a situation influences our perceptions, feelings, and reactions more than the reality of the situation.

 

 

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Beliefs also affect our children’s attitudes, thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Children observe the world around them and don’t always interpret situations accurately. These mistaken beliefs can affect them into adulthood. Consider this example: A child makes her bed, leaving lumps in the sheets. Later, she finds her mother smoothed out the lumps. If this is a daily occurrence, the child might conclude, “My way is never good enough. Everything always has to be perfect” or “Why should I even bother making my bed if she’s going to make it again?” If you asked the mother, she’d probably say she was helping the child. Nevertheless, it is the child’s interpretations, not the parent’s intentions, that program the child’s beliefs. Throughout life, the child will occasionally hear a little voice inside, saying her best is never good enough. Did her mother ever say this? No! But the child believed this was the message behind her mother’s actions.

There is always more than one way to look at a situation. Once we are aware of an unhelpful belief, we can choose to replace it with something more positive. The power and choice are ours.

A Personal Story. When my son, Chris, was eight, I encouraged him to try baseball. He was afraid he wouldn’t be one of the best players, since some children had been playing longer. I pointed out that four years wasn’t a big disadvantage at that age and he was very coordinated so he’d probably catch up quickly. He argued with all the praise, logic, and explanations I offered. He dug his feet in and wouldn’t budge. I even resorted to bribing him, if he’d at least try it for one season. “No,” was his firm response. He only wanted to play soccer and maybe track when he was older. I realized I couldn’t make him try it.

I finally looked at why this was so important to me. After all, I don’t even like baseball, was never involved in any sports, and the rest of our family is not athletic. I realized I saw his potential and wanted him to reach it. I also saw the value of “giving it a shot.” I decided to look at the positive side of the situation: He knew what he wanted and wouldn’t be swayed. This was a quality I admired—if he were applying it to a situation where someone was pressuring him to do something negative. He was committed to one sport and focused on doing it to the best of his ability. I would only have to drive to one sport’s practice. When I looked at it from this perspective, I realized there was nothing wrong with his decision and backed off.

While we teach life’s lessons to children, children teach us life lessons, too. They teach us about unconditional love and forgiveness. They watch what we say and do, so we try harder to set a good example. Parenthood sometimes forces us to explore parts of ourselves that we have not looked at before. It can raise buried issues about our own childhood, which we might not have resolved had we not become parents. When we reprogram our beliefs, we have a chance to “re-parent” ourselves. We can free ourselves from the past and develop our potential as parents—and people.

 

 Replace Unhealthy Beliefs

If we consciously choose our parenting beliefs, it is easier to develop the skills that are consistent with those beliefs. By now, you have probably decided that “balanced” parenting sounds like the style you’d like to have. To achieve this balance, use the styles quiz to identify the style(s) of imbalance you might have. Consider replacing the common, unhealthy beliefs of that style with the healthier alternative beliefs you read in the “Balanced Parenting” section. You can write the helpful beliefs on index cards and repeat them out loud or in your mind throughout the day. Read them all each day or focus on one statement each day. If you do this for at least 21 days, the healthier beliefs will become a new habit.

 

  Believe It and You’ll See It ☆☆ ☆ ☆ 

Have you ever watched an Olympic athlete prepare for a performance? Many of them close their eyes and rehearse their moves—and success—in their minds before they start. They know that believing in success can bring success. Most people operate on the idea, “When I see it, I’ll believe it!” When it

 

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comes to change, however, we usually have to believe “it,” before seeing it. It’s never too late to change or improve a relationship. When we believe we have the potential to change, we start seeing the change in ourselves. Once we change, it affects other people and situations in positive ways. Start picturing the qualities and skills you want to have. Believe that you already possess them. Believe that your relationship with your children can be full of joy and love. You will soon start noticing that reality is growing closer to what you have pictured in your mind.

A Graduate’s Story. I took the parenting class so I could help my four-year-old grandson. I found myself using the communication skills with my adult children and people at work. People commented on how my attitude and behavior changed. I had a new sense of joy in my life and soon saw positive changes in all my relationships. My adult son and I had never really gotten along. After changing my attitude and beliefs, he started opening up to me and we resolved some hurts we were both hanging on to. I guess it’s never too late to change! Every area of my life has improved—and I really believe a lot of it is because I changed my perspective from negative to positive!

 

 Avoid Double Standards

The old saying, “Do what I say, not what I do” was designed to steer children in the right direction. It was proven, however, to produce the opposite result. Parents’ actions impress children. Double standards confuse children. Children quickly detect their parents’ inconsistencies. “If you slap my hand when I reach for something you don’t want me to touch, why can’t I slap the kid who grabs my toy?” “Why do I have to knock on your door, but you can walk into my room without knocking?” We need to act and speak the way we want our children to act and speak.

Ideally, we want to have few or no double standards. Apply rules to everyone in the family: “Everyone hangs up their coats when they come home.” “In this family we don’t hit.” “We respect each other’s privacy.

When we can’t avoid a double standard, we set guidelines that explain when and why the rule can change.

For example, a child leaves a mess after eating in the family room, where both parents and children often eat snacks. The parent can say, “People may eat in the family room if they clean up their messes. Tomorrow you’ll have another chance to eat there and show you can remember to clean up your mess.” That night, if the father eats in the family room, the child might ask, “Why does Daddy get to eat there?” The parent can respond, “Because Daddy has shown he will clean up his mess.” If the father also doesn’t clean up his mess, it would be difficult for the mother to “discipline” him as she did the child. She’ll need to rely on her communication skills, to reveal the consequence of the double standard: the children will test the rules more. Therefore, double standards need to be the exception, not the rule.

A Parenting Class Discussion. During the last session, I asked if anyone still had any behavior problems they wanted to discuss. Jean spoke up saying, “My four-year-old still cusses. I tell him he shouldn’t talk that way and try to teach him what to say instead, but nothing is working.” My first reply was, “Do you cuss?” She admitted that she had only recently started making an effort to control her tongue, but her husband still cursed regularly and was unwilling to stop. He expected his son to hear cussing, but not repeat it. Her three sisters, in class with her, commented on the number of negative role models her son encounters at home and at school. Given the situation, a double standard seemed unavoidable. I asked her, “When can he cuss?” She thought a second and answered, “Thirteen.” “Okay,” I responded, “tell him he can cuss when he’s thirteen!” Surprised, she said, “But I don’t want to hear that in my house!” “Well,” I said, “tell him he can cuss when he’s thirteen if he’s outside the house!” We all laughed at how ridiculous the idea sounded, but agreed she had few other options.

 

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 Be a Role Model ☆☆ ☆ ☆ 

Children are sponges; they imitate what they see and hear, more than what they are told to do. We are their first example of how to speak, act, think, and believe. As they grow older, their positive changes are sometimes in spite of our example and their negative behavior is sometimes because of our example.

A Graduate’s Story. When my little girl was only a year old, I began babysitting and I noticed something interesting: Children who can speak give a babysitter a good glimpse at what goes on at home. I heard four- and five-year-old children playing house with statements like, “Do you want a whipping? Then STOP!” and “Now, young lady, I told you a thousand times . . .” and “Fine. I don’t care. Go out and play.” I’d see them spank the dolls for spilling milk and sit them in time-out for falling off their chairs. I recognized in their actions some of my own responses, only they seemed to be unreasonable “parents” while I considered myself a decent one.

I decided to learn more about how to parent so that some day, when my baby could talk and play, I would be proud to have the babysitter hear her play house. I took the parenting class when my girl was two and worked hard at practicing the skills. I was rewarded for my efforts when she was three-and-a-half, and I heard her playing house. She was putting her doll to bed, saying, “Now, honey, I know you don’t feel sleepy, but it’s bedtime. You can lay quietly in your bed and look at a book, or just close your eyes. You decide.” Since then, I have heard her playing often, and I don’t worry at all what a babysitter might hear.

The best way to learn effective people skills and impart them to our children is to live them, rather than preach them. In short . . .

Become the kind of person you want your child to become.

 

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Balance Your Parenting Style 

OVER-CONTROLLING

 

BALANCED

 

UNDER-CONTROLLING

         

demands sole power

 

shares power

 

gives up power

inflexible, few choices 

 

flexible choices, within limits

 

too flexible few limits

teaches obedience to any authority

 

teaches respect for others and life skills

 

teaches self-centeredness

focuses on rules and compliance

 

focuses on respect and earned privileges

 

focuses on freedom and happiness

parents’ rights and needs are most important

 

all rights and needs are  equally important, but different 

 

children’s rights and  needs are most important

rules apply to children

 

rules apply to all, usually

 

rules aren’t applied or enforced

uses punishment,  children suffer for mistakes

 

uses discipline, children learn from mistakes

 

rescues from mistakes or denies children are wrong

negative feelings are not allowed

 

negative feelings are  expressed and resolved

 

rescues children from negative feelings

parent solves problems

 

parent teaches children  how to solve problems

 

parent rescues from or avoid problems

rigid consistency

 

consistent, based on needs of situation

 

wishy-washy,  inconsistent

parent makes all decisions

 

children learn to make  decisions, within limits

 

children do what they  want, no “decisions”

Permission for reader to reprint this page for personal use only granted by author, Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.


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SUMMARY SHEET

FOUNDATION-BUILDING TOOLSET

 

BALANCE YOUR PARENTING STYLE ☆☆☆☆

Over-controlling: many limits with few choices or freedoms.

Power Patrol, Perfectionistic Supervisor

Under-controlling: many choices and freedoms with few limits.

Avoider, Over-indulger

Balanced: choices and freedoms within reasonable limits.

 

REPLACE UNHELPFUL BELIEFS WITH HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVES

 

CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDES AND PERCEPTIONS ☆☆☆☆

“When you believe it, you’ll see it.”

 

ELIMINATE DOUBLE STANDARDS

Apply rules to the whole family.

 

BE A ROLE MODEL ☆☆☆☆

“Become the kind of person you want your child to become.” 

Permission for reader to reprint this page for personal use only granted by author, Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.

 

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PRACTICE EXERCISES

A. Identifying Parenting Styles. In each of the following situations, identify each parent’s parenting style (Power Patrol, Perfectionistic Supervisor, Avoider, Over-Indulger, Balanced) and answer the questions that follow each scenario.

1. Mr. Jones was offered a promotion at work, but it would involve moving. He calls his wife and tells her he has decided to take the job. She isn’t happy about having to move, but since he’s the father, she must comply. She decides to do what she can to make the children agree and make things go smoothly.

That night at the dinner table, Dad informs the children of his decision. They are not happy about the idea—at all! Dad holds up his hands to quiet the mob and says, “This is a good opportunity and I’m not going to pass it up. You’ll adjust.” Mrs. Jones says, “Your father and I know what’s best for you. You’ll see, this move will be for the better.” Then she tells the children her plan for making the move go smoothly. She has lists and schedules the children can use to help them get organized. When the children continue to protest, she stands up, starts clearing away the half-eaten plates of food, and says, “Now that’s enough. Go to your rooms and start cleaning. We need to get the house ready to sell.”

What is Mr. Jones’ parenting style? What is Mrs. Jones’ style? What were their goals? How did they try to accomplish them? How did the children respond? What was the result?

2. Mr. Smith was offered a promotion at work, but it would involve moving. He wants to accept the position and calls his wife to tell her the “good” news. She isn’t very happy about having to move, but knows how much it would mean to her husband. She wants him to be happy, so she agrees to the move. That night, at the dinner table, Mr. Smith tells the children the news. The children are not happy about the idea—at all! Mr. Smith starts to feel angry and confused, so he leaves the table to watch TV. Mrs. Smith, left with the angry mob, listens to the children’s fears and reasons for not wanting to move. She tries to explain, “But this job would make your father so happy.” When the children say they won’t be happy, Mrs. Smith replies, “I’ll talk to your father and explain how hard it would be on all of us. I’m sure he’ll understand. Maybe another promotion will come along that doesn’t require a move.”

When Mrs. Smith tries to talk Mr. Smith out of taking the job, he is amazed! “I thought you wanted me to take the job.” Mrs. Smith explains, “I wanted you to take it so you would be happy. But then I realized how miserable the children would be.” “Fine!” Mr. Smith snaps, “I’ll turn it down. Now leave me alone!”

What is Mr. Smith’s parenting style? What is Mrs. Smith’s style? What were their goals? How did they try to accomplish them? How did the children respond? What was the result?

3. Mr. Brown was offered a promotion at work, but it would involve moving. He wants to accept the position, but knows it will affect his wife and family. He calls his wife, tells her about the offer and his desire to accept it. They discuss it over the phone and decide this is an opportunity he should accept. Both know that the rest of the family will probably have concerns. They decide to schedule an “emergency” family council after dinner, to discuss the decision.

After dinner, at the family council, Mr. Brown explains the job opportunity and the move it would entail. When the first child interrupts him, he says, “I really want to hear everyone’s feelings and concerns. Let me finish and each of you can have a turn to be heard.” He concludes his explanation by saying, “This job is a great opportunity for me and I think there could be some benefits for all of us. Your mom and I have already discussed it and I plan to accept this offer. I want your support, too. What do you each think? How do you feel about moving?” Each child expresses only

 

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negative comments. Mrs. Brown says, “Each of you has very valid concerns. Your dad and I can’t imagine leaving either. We need to make this decision, but we care about your feelings and needs and want to consider them as we work out the details.” Mr. Brown adds, “Right now, we just want you to know what’s going on. We’d like to hear and discuss your concerns more at this week’s family council. We are also willing to listen to your feelings and concerns privately. Until then, will everyone try to think of some positive things the move will bring as well as your concerns?”

The children aren’t happy about moving, but they know they will have a chance to talk about their concerns. A few share their feelings with their parents throughout the week. Mr. and Mrs. Brown listen with respect and help them work through their concerns. When they ask questions about specific details, their parents suggest writing them down, so they can involve the entire family in future planning.

At the next family council, the children are beginning to think a little more positively but still don’t like the decision. They realize they can’t change the decision to move, but want their opinions and concerns to be heard. The family brainstorms ideas for making the move easier for each person and makes a list of questions, decisions, and ideas to discuss at future family councils.

What is Mr. Brown’s parenting style? What is Mrs. Brown’s style? What were their goals? How did they try to accomplish them? How did the children respond? What was the result? 

 

B . Rewriting Unhealthy Beliefs.

1.   In addition to the imbalanced beliefs you identified while reading this chapter, listen to your self-talk. Record the positive and unhelpful thoughts.

2.   Re-write the negative beliefs into positive affirmations. Some good formulas are:

       I will . . .          I can . . .          I want to . . .    I choose to . . . 

3.   Notice how the changes in your thoughts and beliefs change your responses and perceptions.

One graduate did this exercise for a month and found 75 negative thoughts or statements she made to her children! (Don’t worry, you don’t have to come up with that many!) Here is one example.
 
Negative Thought or Statement
I don’t understand my son; he never listens to me.
Positive Alternative
I can better understand my son, if I listen to him first.

Activity for the Week

Choose a situation involving your child that seems negative and answer the following questions:

  1. What am I telling myself about the situation and how I “should” respond?
  2. Is there a positive side to this behavior or situation?
  3. Is there a more helpful way to respond?

Here is one example of a positive interpretation of a behavior parents often view negatively: 

Negative Behavior:

A child is argumentative.

Positive Perspective:

Being logical and analytical are traits that are helpful as an adult. Children express their individuality by voicing opinions. At least my child has the courage to speak up. I can teach my children how to voice their opinions assertively and respectfully. I can choose not to argue and acknowledge my child’s perspective. If my child just wants to argue, I can walk away. 

 

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Detailed Answers

  1. Mr. Jones is a Power Patrol. He has a demanding attitude and puts his needs above others’. He makes the decision, although it affects the rest of the family. He doesn’t consider or address their feelings. Mrs. Jones is a Perfectionistic Supervisor. She tries to control through organizing and doesn’t listen to the children’s feelings, either. The Jones’ are trying to force the decision on the children, thinking that if they just tell them “That’s the way it is,” the children will cooperate. The children think their feelings and opinions don’t count. They have no healthy outlet for their concerns. The family will move, but the children will probably feel angry and resentful. Once they get to their new home, one or more might even try to sabotage the move, to prove the move was a bad idea. Score: parents won, children lost.
  2. Mr. Smith is an Avoider. He avoids conflict by shutting everyone out. Mrs. Smith is an Over-indulger. She tries to please everyone, except herself, and gets caught in the middle trying to please her husband and the children. She won’t let the children be temporarily unhappy, even if the move might be good for the family in the long-run. The children have learned that if they complain and push hard enough, their parents will give in to their wishes. The family doesn’t move. Score: children won, parents lost.
  3. Mr. and Mrs. Brown are both balanced parents. They recognize that a family move is an executive decision that is ultimately up to the parents. Since it will affect the entire family, they want to deal with everyone’s feelings, so the move will go smoothly. They hold a family council meeting, but not to take a vote on whether to move. They discuss everyone’s feelings about moving. The children still aren’t happy about the news, but they have a healthy outlet for their feelings. This will prevent resentment and revenge in the long run. They can also have some choice about the move, such as whether they move before or after summer break. By offering choices within limits, the family will still move, but each family member’s feelings and ideas will receive equal respect. Score: parents won, children won.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

Take the knowledge and skills you just learned and use it daily with children and adults. Be observant; you can find many examples of these styles at home, at work (leadership and teaching styles), and in the world around you.

If you have decided that balanced parenting is the style you want to use in your family, this is the book for you. You are ready to start touring the Universal Blueprint®  and the actual toolsets. The next chapter, “Chapter 3, The Universal Blueprint,” is different from all the other chapters; it is an overview of our parenting plan and explains a logical thinking process. In it, we learn how to look at any situation and ask three questions to identify what type of problem it is. We also learn the steps that are part of our universal response formula. Once we understand the general steps we will take, the rest of the book will go through each step, toolset-by-toolset, telling us exactly what tools we can use and how to use those tools effectively. If you are ready to read Chapter 3, then (as my elementary school teachers used to say) put on your thinking cap!

 

REFERENCES

  1. Dolores Curran, Traits of a Healthy Family, (Winston Press, 1983. Ninth printing, Ballantine, 1988.) pp. 26–27.
  2. Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D. (Children: The Challenge, with Vicki Soltz, R.N.: E.P. Dutton, 1964) discussed how a democratic society influences parenting. S.T.E.P. and, later, Active Parenting labeled a balanced parenting style “democratic” and further defined the democratic analogies.