Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A House Divided

Sex, Money, and Families - the three topics couples argue the most about, all have the same thing in common, they are hard to share because we have different viewpoints.  It's my body, my money, and my family, but in marriage we have to negotiate to make it all OURS.  Fights about families usually revolve around how to handle our insane in-laws or the blog topic for today - how to handle parenting.

The problem is that most us feel like we have no idea what we are doing but we are positive that what our spouse is doing must be screwing up our kids.  We'll never say it but we feel like if our spouse would just totally adopt our way of parenting then we could create perfect children - problem is it is a theory we can never prove. When parents come at the same kids with two different approaches often the result is two people undermining what the other parent is doing resulting in a net gain of zero.  Chances are if you backed off completely and just went with their approach or they went with yours, either way it would create more productive parenting, but no one will give in and while the parents bicker the child skates off whistling, thankful you created the smokescreen for their getaway.  How does this come about?  Does anyone go into parenting thinking "I sure hope I can be so hard on my kids that they tremble when I walk in the room, placate me in my presence and then talk junk about me when I leave the room" or "I want my kids to some day see me as just their peer, disrespect me openly, but at least let me be their confidante, but with no authority at all."  But that is where couples find themselves due to Parental Polarization.

The same thing happens with finances or other areas where at the beginning of marriage one spouse is a little more frugal and concerned with saving than the other, while the other is a little more impulsive and comfortable enjoying their income.  Pretty soon the saver has to compensate for the spender and vice versa and before long they are far more extreme than they started or even they want to be.  With parenting we each start a little more towards focused on the rules or focused on the relationship, but before long we overcompensate for the other and become polarized caricatures of parents.  The strict one feels like the kids will get away with murder if they don't step in and correct them, because heaven knows their pushover partner will never make the kids listen.  The permissive one feels like the poor kids will be crushed under the cruel dictatorship of their partner unless they swoop in to console and reassure, letting them have a little bit of freedom.  The result - they both openly or subversively undermine the authority of the other resulting in kids who are at best confused and at worst decide to discount them both.  In mid-tirade, vein freshly bulging the strict parent gets lopped off at the knees when the savior parent swoops in to reassure the kids that the cruel ogre in their midst really doesn't have the power to make their lives miserable, they won't let them.  As the permissive parent reason's with the kids hoping to convince them to want to do what they want the, the strict parent barges in and in one quick interchange establishes that the other parent never had any credibility, and should continue to be ignored.  When we get mad at the other parent totally undermining our parenting it just gets interpreted as them pushing their "I hate rules" or "I hate the kids" agendas and the bickering just continues.

The solution - you have to have a balance of rules and relationship, they have to be independent of each other, and they both must be pursued by both parents simultaneously.  This means it is vitally important for kids to be taught right and wrong, cause and effect, have their character shaped with consequences, and be held accountable for their actions so they become respectful, responsible adults.  It is equally important that they feel loved, cared for, accepted for who they are, and comfortable sharing their inner world with their parents so they grow up not being a people pleaser, a perfectionist, or full of shame.  It's important that each parent balance both of these, using God's example of being the perfect balance of grace with truth, so they get the full message without two messages drowning each other out.  So this means if each parent needs to overcompensate it isn't in the direction away from what their partner is doing, but rather towards it.  The black and white rules lawyer concerned with what the neighbors think of their parenting job needs to focus on building a strong healthy relationship with their children full of grace.  The bleeding heart rescuer wanting to spare their kids from any hurt, disappointment, or consequences needs to focus on establishing real authority with rewards and punishments taking their kid's character seriously.  The key to doing this is seeing each role separately and not allowing them to overlap.  Just because your kid screws up royally doesn't mean you should pull back on your relationship with them - that's not what God does for us, he maintains his relationship with us through any and all mistakes because he loves us and we are His, not because we are lovable.  And just because we want our kids to feel loved and cared for doesn't mean we ignore their poor character and shield them from their own consequences, that's now what God does, and it really isn't loving it's just pleasing.

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