I’m Heather Anderson, and this is Episode 10: A United Front.
Hello, amazing moms! Thank you for joining me today. I’m excited about our subject about being a united front with your child’s parents, but I also realize it’s quite a controversial subject and I know I’m going to get a lot of comments on it today. I’ll tell you a little bit more about why it’s controversial toward the end.
You see, kids are smart. They know what they can get away with with each parent and they even know how to pit each parent against each other, if needed, to get their way. They sometimes seem to love to divide and conquer, and they have like this sixth sense to know where the gaps in parents’ agreements are.
A united front is an agreed-upon approach to an issue by both parents. Even if they’re not in complete agreement, it’s best to at least have the appearance of a united front. One of the keys to a peaceful home and well-behaved kids is to be united in parenting.
A united front with parents is extremely important, especially for kids younger than 11. This is true for parents whether you are married, separated, divorced, or remarried, because no matter what the situation young children are easily confused when one parent has and enforces certain rules and the other just doesn’t. This is because, at this age, children see the world as black and white. And to them, there can only be one right way of doing things.
So if the policy is that video games are only played on the weekends, or that homework needs to be done before they play with friends, then both parents need to really try to get on the same page and enforce those things. It will make your child’s life so much easier if you work out your disagreements and keep them private.
Sometimes you might have a situation where a parent always likes to go against the rules. They might do this because they feel like the rules are too strict, or too many. Maybe they want to passive-aggressively undermine the other parent because of their own issues they are having. Or it could even be simply, and most commonly, that parents are just raised differently and they default back to what they know to be good parenting from their own parents, and it’s just different from each other. And that’s okay to have differences of opinions. And sometimes the parent does this because they think being lenient will make them the more popular parent. But if a child is younger than 11, while they are still viewing the world in absolutes, this will actually only lessen the child’s respect for the parent who is typically doing things in the “wrong way” in their eyes.
But this black-and-white-ness starts to disappear about six and it’s pretty much completely gone by 11. And while a united front is still the most ideal way to do things, when you have older children and teenagers, it is not absolutely necessary. By then they understand that people can disagree and do things differently without necessarily being wrong. But this can cause some different, and almost more complicated, issues. Instead of seeing one parent as right and the other parent as wrong, they might see one parent as strict any other lenient. And the child will most likely approach the lenient parent first to ask permission for something. And then start playing one parent against the other. If you are married and this sort of thing is happening, try to get it contained. Really try not to let your child pit you against each other. This can be a recipe for disaster.
I have first-hand experience with this because as a teenager I did this a lot. My mom was far more strict than my dad, and a lot of times I didn’t like her rules or her reasoning behind why I couldn’t do certain things. So what did I do? I would tell on her and her unreasonable strictness to my dad who sometimes would just tell me I should listen to my mother, but every so often I was able to light a fire under him and he would go to bat for me against my mom. Sometimes this would make it so I would get my way, but every time they would be in a huge fight. I can’t say I liked it when they fought, because I didn’t at all. But I think I just wanted so badly to feel validated; that someone else (my dad) saw that I was being unfairly dealt with. I don’t understand why I did what I did, but I mostly blame my teenager, selfish brain that was being taken over by aliens for a time (as I like to describe it). And sadly my parents ended up divorcing a few years later after 23 years of marriage.
And I also have experience on the other side of this, as a parent with my own kids. They too were pretty good at playing their dad and me against each other when we were married and sometimes even since we’ve been divorced. I know they have always viewed me as the stricter parent, or I should say maybe the more strict parent (I really like to make up words sometimes), and him as the lenient parent. Kids are really clever this way, and mine are some of the best at this, but if they saw a crack in any rule they didn’t like they could easily play us against each other.
One of the reoccurring issues was piano practice. I admit, I forced my kids to play the piano, and with that comes daily practice. I was pretty easy on them, though, and this was only for about 15 minutes a day, and they usually really didn’t like to practice. If dad wasn’t home they would practice without complaint, but if they cleverly push their practice to later in the evening when he was usually home they could complain to him about how much they hated piano. And then he would usually jump on their side and question me about why I felt it was so important for them to play and if they didn’t want to they shouldn’t have to and then once again I became the bad guy. And I was offended, and we were once again in a fight, and because now we were completely preoccupied with being pissed off at each other, my crafty child got out of piano practice.
And the thing is, none of this is the child’s fault. Every child does this to some extent. Every child looks for the cracks in the foundation at some time in their childhood. Even the best, most obedient, kids will test to see if the front is indeed united. It is up to the parents to make sure that they cannot succeed at dividing you, and it just cannot be overstated enough how those things can divide parents. It will take such an unprecedented toll on the parents. If mom and dad cannot get united on parenting, everyone’s lives become more complicated. It puts stress on the entire family. And actually this is one of the biggest issues in relationships. It’s one of the top five things that couples fight about the most. In order it’s: money, sex, chores, in-laws, and how to raise the children.
So even if you and your child’s other parent don’t completely agree on how to handle an issue, it’s best to at least have the appearance of total agreement. This means you might have to give in once in a while for the sake of the united front, while continuing to maybe negotiate privately.
I have just a few tips to try to help you get on more of a united front, if this is something you’re struggling with. Always talk about the issue outside of the earshot of your child. If your child catches you off-guard by asking you for an answer right in front of each other, like maybe your teenager comes in while you’re watching TV and wants permission to go spend the night at a friend’s house whose parents you’ve never met, and maybe there’s a difference of opinion between parents. It’s fine to tell your child that you need to talk it over before making a final decision, and then privately have a conversation.
And next, when talking things out, try to find common ground and try to understand each other’s perspective on the issue. Sometimes even after a thorough discussion and there’s still a stalemate, you might just have to agree to disagree, pick a solution, and go with it.
If this happens where you absolutely cannot agree, lean toward a decision of the parent to whom the issue is most important. If you don’t really care that much about the issue, it might be better to just give in. For example, if your child’s father really wants him to continue to play baseball and he says he will take him to all the practices and get him everything he needs for it, but you just don’t agree because you don’t see why he needs to play baseball, maybe the fact that it is so important to your child’s father, and it doesn’t really matter to you, maybe you could just give that one to him.
But always try to err on the side of caution. It is usually safer for your child, in the end, if the lenient parent gives into the more cautious decision. So if one of you feels like the middle school dance is just really not a good idea for your seventh grader, maybe you should err on the side of caution and go with your gut, and hopefully the other parent will respect the decision and jump on that united front.
And when all else fails maybe you could base the decision on whose view hasn’t been favored lately. It is good to even things out a bit so that both parents feel heard.
No matter what the decision, it is important to try to support the decision. You can tell your older child or your teenager that you disagree, if you want. It’s good for kids to see that people can disagree and not get their way and still be civil, but you can still hold up that united front even if complete agreement was not reached. If you are still married to your child’s parent, try not to let the disagreement of certain issues become a power struggle. This isn’t a fight to see who is the stronger, smarter, better parent. The focus always needs to be about what’s best for the child.
However you come to the decisions, a united front in the end is truly what is best for everyone in the family, but especially your children.
I have noticed this topic is a little controversial because some might say that this united front thinking makes kids the adversaries, the enemies, and that parents are backing each other only out of a sense of obligation or fear. But this is not what I’m trying to say at all. Kids, of course, are not the enemy, but they do have young brains that need to be taught. And these boundaries that we set, these rules we have for them, truly make them feel safer in their childhood. And both parents, if in disagreement, no matter what the dynamic of their relationship, should always be able to state their own opinions and convictions and try to negotiate in a calm, civil manner. It’s never okay for one parent to be forced into conceding. That type of abusive mindset is never okay, but these negotiations just do not need to be figured out in front of the children especially if they are under that 11 year old age. Their brains just simply aren’t ready to understand gray areas yet, and it can cause a lot of turmoil and confusion within them.
I hope that what I talked about today has helped you in some way.
And just remember: authenticity, love, mutual respect, and integrity are always the ideal when creating a united front.
Thanks so much for your time today and I will talk to you next week!
If you would like to learn more about The Mommy Whisperer or would like to sign up for a free mini coaching call with me, please head on over to my website at heatherandersonlifecoach.com