This whole parenting gig sometimes feels like a slow dance to disco music in a dive bar. Sometimes my husband and I do a wonderful job and we’re moving in tandem to beautiful music. Other times, we’re stepping all over each other and the music is skipping a beat.
My husband and I are at the end of the parenting journey where all of our kids are now legally adults. I have to admit, there’s a sense of satisfaction of reaching this point, of knowing that we’ve done the best we could with the knowledge we had, and now it’s up to the kids to go out and live their lives. The last kiddo will graduate in May and then he’s off to New York to work in the summer. We will officially be empty-nesters.
Learning to parent in tandem has been the hardest skill for my husband and I to acquire. I’m not sure one really captures that skill in full–for as soon as you seem to master one stage of parenting, the music changes.
Here are some of the things that worked for us:
In the beginning of the parenting journey, neither of us knew what we were doing. We were going into this Mom/Dad stuff with no experience, other than babysitting someone else’s kids. So at first, we weren’t even sure how to handle stuff like sleep schedules, vaccines, or breastfeeding in public. We did have a single, unifying goal: to keep the baby breathing and thriving. To make matters worse, whenever we were operating on little or no sleep, we’d end up snapping at each other and arguing about stuff that didn’t even matter. By the time the third kid came around, we each knew ourselves better as parents and what we did or didn’t want to do. The things we agreed upon, we came up with a mutual parenting strategy for. Whenever we disagreed, we either came to a compromise or took turns with our own parenting approaches as long as it wasn’t in conflict with one another.
You know you’re doing the parenting dance out of tandem when you continually run up against issues that you can’t seem to resolve. Try the Mirror, Mirror technique (see next paragraph) to make sure you’re accurately understanding your partner before you attempt to resolve any conflicts. The hardest part about unresolved issues is that they require a solution to parent effectively. You can’t continue to be ambiguous or in conflict about parenting situations that require a decision. So the first place to start is in a place of respect for each other’s parenting views. Try putting yourself in your partner’s place and to see the parenting angle from a different view. We are a compilation of our own upbringing as well as personal experiences and all of this comes into play when we raise children. We each have a set of beliefs that we operate from. What are the bottom-line approaches you can agree on? What can you agree to disagree on? What or how can you compromise?
This technique has saved me from countless arguments. I learned this in college while studying for my Counseling degree. It’s a simple practice that brings about clarity and allows the other person to know that you’re listening and you’ve heard them correctly. Whenever you’re in the midst of discussing a heated topic, stop. Reflect back to your partner what you think you are hearing them say. Start with, “What I’m hearing you say is ____________.” This gives your partner the chance to agree or to clarify further if you are misunderstanding what they’re communicating.
Evaluate and Adjust
Along the parenting journey you must constantly evaluate and adjust your parenting approaches to accommodate changes and growth. What worked when your kids were toddlers may be way off base when they’re approaching middle school. Examine how your kids communicate with each of you–does one child gravitate toward one parent for a certain reason than another? What can you adjust? What strengths does one parent have that the other does not and vice versa? Parent from that place of strength and learn to parent as a team using those strengths.
What Really Matters?
Bottom line: what really matters? The parenting journey is truly short–before you know it, your kids will be off on their own. Whenever you’re facing out-of-sync parenting situations, ask yourself what really matters. If you’re having an argument that truly won’t matter ten months from now, is it worth it? If not, let it go. Get back to the part where you love your kid and it matters.