What to Do When Parents Disagree
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
Responsibilities & Values
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A friend told me that she and her husband have different ideas of what sharing is all about. She said that her husband believes that sharing means giving some of what you have to someone else because you love that person. But my friend believes that sharing means giving someone what you have because you don’t want it anymore or because you have more of it than you can use.
Interesting. Which definition of “sharing” do you believe to be true?
These parents’ differences call into question our ideas of what it means to share. And they also point out a central fact of parenting: each parent might have quite different ideas about fundamental concepts. Those ideas are rooted in how each parent was raised and each perspective is equally valid.
Both my friend and her husband believe in their ideas about sharing. Each believes the other’s ideas are wrong and their own ideas are right. Both my friend and her husband are a bit bemused to discover such a fundamental difference exists between them, about a notion for which they each thought there was only one perspective.
If you and your children’s other parent have very different ideas about sharing, or honesty, or religion what should you do? How do you raise up your kids when your household is divided on key points?
Let’s assume that you and your children’s other parent both treat your kids nicely. Neither parent lies to the children, or teases them unmercifully, or is mean and selfish. Like my friend, you might think that sharing only happens when you have something to spare but, like my friend, you don’t tease your children with things you’re going to keep to yourself.
If this is the case, then it’s not fair to decide that one parent or the other has to muzzle his thoughts and support the perspective he thinks is wrong. There’s no need to present a united front on key issues. In fact, children learn more about what sharing or honesty or religion mean when there are different perspectives and they actually have to think.
But each parent must show respect for the other parent’s point of view. Part of what children learn when parents disagree is that disagreement can be courteous. So it’s okay to say, “That’s what Daddy thinks. But I think this way…” It’s not okay to simply say, “Daddy is wrong.”
Everyone develops a sense of meaning through life experiences. And everyone is naturally blind to alternatives. So it makes sense to be aware of our own limited perspective and to be open to the possibility that there’s more than one way to think about important concepts. My friend and her husband have two small children. How they will teach their boys what it means to share remains to be seen.
But they – and we all – are on notice that our partners may not agree with us on every point. We cannot assume that we are always right but have to admit there can be two equally reasonable points of view. And then, we must teach our children that as well.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.