Do you find yourself in cahoots with your child against your spouse? Do you ever feel as if you’re standing alone as your spouse and child form an informal pact together?
When one parent is allied with a child, it creates an unhealthy bond. This environment becomes ripe for disrespect as the seeds of chutzpah are sown. A child who learns that parents are not on the same page sees the possibility of putting down a parent and casting their opinion aside. Parent and child versus a parent is a recipe for dysfunction.
A mother asked me about the relationship her husband has with their 11 year old son. Describing their exchanges, she felt that her husband was unduly harsher with him than with their daughters. He expected more, demanded more and corrected him on the slightest mistakes. Somehow it felt as if they were in competition with one another.
They were in competition; they were competing for her alliance.
I wanted to know what her reaction was when these happenings took place.
“I tell my husband that he’s being too hard and he should just let things go. After all, he is the father and he needs to act like the adult.”
“And do you say all this in front of your son?” I questioned.
“Well, “she replied, “I do try my best to whisper. But I guess I’m whispering loud and he hears it all.”
I assured her that not only did her son hear, he understood quite clearly that he had discovered a powerful wedge between his parents. Anytime in the future that he had an issue with his father, he now perceived his mother as on his side. His relationship with his father will suffer as he grows into teen hood. The relationship between husband and wife also frays. There is a question of loyalty, trust and parenting on common ground. Parents who display favoritism for a child over a spouse create resentment and anger in marriage. It is the father and mother who must stand united; not the child and parent.
Of course there are times that one parent is coming down hard on a child or being unreasonable in high expectations. How can we resolve this type of situation and stand together with strength so that our children perceive a home environment that feels safe and secure?
Understand that this resolution is vital. When kids see parents behaving lovingly and respectfully with one another, they feel as if they are in a stable home that will endure. A firm foundation gives sons and daughters the sense of steadiness needed in a chaotic world. Children also learn to respect parents when parents display respect for one another. Casting a spouse’s opinion aside thoughtlessly, disparaging a husband or wife and treating each other dishonorably only hurts us, parents. Children pick up these disrespectful cues and then act the very same way towards us. Nobody wins.
Strategies for Effective Parenting
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to ensure you and your spouse are united and build better bonds in your family.
- Don’t put down your spouse in front of your child.
- Don’t sabotage the relationship of the other parent by criticizing the way your spouse is handling a situation.
Saying things like ‘you always make her cry’ or ‘that’s how you play ball with him?’ is not productive.
- Don’t use your child as a pawn to get back at your spouse.
- Don’t attempt to fix your loneliness or hurts through becoming your child’s partner.
- Don’t argue about your child while he is present.
Besides teaching him to be disrespectful, many children end up feeling guilty that they have caused bad feelings between parents.
- Don’t show favoritism to one child or become that child’s defense attorney.
You must be honest here. If you find yourself constantly sticking up for that child, take a step back and figure out what is happening in your home.
- Do discuss differences of opinion in private, using the respectful tones and words that you would expect your children to use.
- Do agree that you will not put each other down or use disparaging remarks to get your point across-especially in front of the children.
- Do agree that there must be standards of respect in your home; so that when a child is upset or angry he may not put down a parent.
Saying things like ‘she drives me crazy’ or ‘he doesn’t know what he’s talking about’ is completely unacceptable. A child may express frustration or sadness, may ask for more time or understanding, but all must be expressed with honorable words and actions. Children should never perceive a parent as a vessel for complaints against another parent.
- Do communicate that as parents, you are on the same page.
- Do decide to sit down together and discuss how to handle the times that you disagree. Are there certain situations that keep on cropping up, pitting one parent against another? Is there one child in particular who brings out this unhealthy alliance?
- Do be sure that children hear positive words from both parents.
Sometimes a parent falls into a negative spiral with a child. Every interaction is about what the child did not do, or how the child could do better. When the other parent hears this, a defensive posture is taken. This tug of war must stop. Children need to hear positive words, encouragement and love from both mom and dad.
Emotional crossfire wounds both parents and children. Being a parent means that we set our egos to the side, stop indulging ourselves and start focusing on the health of our homes. Our children need us to lead them into the future. A future that is intact, based on mutual respect and dignity. Children who see parents aligning together understand that theirs is a home filled with love and wisdom.