When verbalized in connection with parenting, the idiomatic expression, on the same page, at times, is misunderstood. Some people believe the term implies total agreement where one of the spouses gives up his/her right to disagree on an opinion, decision or direction s/he wishes to follow. In truth, while “agreement” is definitely implied, the undercurrent is one of a supportive nature.
The connotation is that both parents are a team, and they are one voice in seeking a resolution and course of action they plan to take. Taking the term one step further, differences of opinion are not processed in the purview of the children and when a decision cannot be reached, an objective third party will be consulted (most often, this translates into professional guidance).
When parents are on the same page, generally speaking, there is a better opportunity for the development of family harmony, a peaceful home environment and a more effective parent-child relationship. What happens, though, when parents are not on the same page? And how is that issue further compounded when a struggling child is in the midst of the family dynamic?
In this two-part article, Carol (name changed for confidentiality purposes) will share with us some of her experiences. She will discuss what it is like in attempting to parent effectively while her spouse demonstrates no interest in joining her on the same page.
Disappointed, discouraged and exasperated, Carol diligently works at implementing many of the newer parenting tools she gained from her coaching sessions. Unfortunately, she is well aware that her husband’s attitude and behaviors often compromise her efforts. In the final analysis, she is left, almost always, employing damage control among “all” her children, not only the struggling one.
How seemingly unfair! Not only must she contend with a struggling child, she is also overwhelmed with additional challenges, the source of which is her husband. To quote her: “In many ways they’re both acting the same way; I feel like I’m dealing with two children!”
During one of our coaching sessions, Carol indicated she would like to share with her husband what is on her mind; but she cannot, at least not now. “I have no doubt he would be resistant to my words. He would probably turn them around and blame me once again. I’ve had enough of that game; I’m no longer interested in following that path. And since he won’t seek help for himself, it’s in my best interest to keep my thoughts to myself.” As a way to get her feelings out in the open, I suggested to Carol that she write down her thoughts in the same manner in which she would speak to her husband. She did, and she found the exercise to be healing. She also requested that I share them with the readership. And her reasoning was admirable: “If one parent reads my words and will gain an understanding of the necessity to become educated and partner with his/her spouse as a team, it would be well worth experiencing all my pain and suffering.”
The following are Carol’s innermost thoughts to her husband:
Think back, my dear husband, to the earlier part of our marriage. We waited a long time to become a family and we were both the favorite aunt and uncle of our nieces and nephews. We adored them and they adored us.
We couldn’t wait to have our own and then, we did.
You loved to play with our son. You wanted to be the father to him that your father was not to you. You played ball with him. You explored the magic of electronics. You loved taking him to shul with you. You loved filming him.
He grew up and when he was two, he said that two-letter word, “no.” You couldn’t take it! “How could ‘my’ child defy me?” It was very hard for you and slowly you withdrew. Your son wasn’t the son you had hoped for. Instead of understanding where this “no” was coming from, you chose to blame me. It was my fault; I wasn’t bringing him up properly.
So began your crusade. You blamed. You had everything so neatly worked out. You couldn’t understand how a wife could devote so much time to her kids – mind you – instead of working and bringing in money. You felt if you were working so many hours and traveling and I was working so few hours and not traveling, I should be doing a perfect job. After all, isn’t that why I wasn’t working?
You had – and still have – such a black and white view of things: a cause and effect world, a world governed by logic and facts. There are no gray areas with you, no thinking out of the box. When we saw that our son struggled in academics, it was easy to blame me. After all, I’m home with the kids, I should be doing homework. Obviously I’m not. What’s so hard to do homework with a seven-year-old? By now there were other kids and you couldn’t understand what was so hard. The years went by. The rest of the kids did well academically. It became harder and harder for our oldest as, one by one, the little ones overtook him. You despised him in every which way and he couldn’t do anything right in your eyes. The put-downs went on for many years and they got worse and worse.
Then the day came that our son grew up. His friends beckoned him and he withdrew more and more.
Today he no longer is afraid of you. You can’t hurt him. He is bigger than you. However, he is afraid of failing and he is frozen in a state of limbo. When he does attempt to do anything, he makes sure to sabotage it because the pain of waiting for it to fail is harder than when it finally does fail. You don’t see your role here, and again you blame me.
I was lucky, or better yet, Hashem rewarded me for trying so hard to help my child. I began learning from a professional coach, one who works with parents of troubled teens. It was a lifeline! In the beginning I would call her for every little thing. Slowly, I became educated and saw results. What a treat it was for me! I tried to include you but you were not interested in anything I said. In fact, you made a point of criticizing me and ‘my methods.’ You sabotaged a lot and so it was difficult for me to parent effectively. Instead of helping our children learn from their errors, more often than not, my focus was on compensating for your harshness.
If the purpose of life is to grow, learn and move on, then you have failed. You haven’t learned from anything because you are consistently blaming. At this point, you have lost the respect of the children, and my respect toward you is slowly waning, although I keep working on myself. I still have to prompt the children to say the right things. When they leave the house, I softly whisper in their ear to say goodbye to you.
You waited so long to get married and to have your own family. And once the family came along, you did not appreciate each child’s uniqueness. Instead of understanding your children’s challenges and how you could help them grow, you concentrated more on your needs and what your children weren’t doing to satisfy those needs.
My heart bleeds for you.
In Part II, Carol will share with the readership how she resolves her dilemma. She explains how a mother can still move forward with effective parenting tools despite the fact that her husband is not on the same page with her. Carol realizes her resolution is not ideal. As a matter of fact, under the circumstances and having in mind the reality of her situation, she acknowledges that her approach is more about coping. And it is all she could do to survive the moment.
To be continued
Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.