Does the following script resonate with you? Father to mother: “How do you expect him to be frum when you let him to go to the mall? You don’t stop him from hanging around with those ‘bad’ kids.” Mother to father: “You’re always blaming me! When have you ever learned with him without yelling or putting him down?” “When was the last time you said something positive to him − anything, anything at all?”
This scenario is an example of the type of blaming fathers and mothers may inflict upon one another when their child is in conflict. Blaming takes its toll – on the marriage and the family – until one parent decides to bring it to a halt. Carol (name changed), whom we met in Part I, took that first step; she stopped the blame game. Instead, she chose a path of education. She learned how to cope with her son’s tumultuous life: how to respect him even when he acted disrespectfully; how to communicate with honesty and compassion; how to set boundaries and limitations, and mostly, how to have compassion and understanding for the confusion he was experiencing throughout his challenges. Despite her efforts to share this education with her husband, Carol reported that her husband was not interested in hearing anything. When their son’s behaviors triggered a raw nerve in her husband, her husband’s attitude was: “kick him out!” Clearly Carol and her husband were not on the same page. It’s been two years since Carol gained her education. As she contemplated this period, I asked her if she would be willing to share with the readership some of her knowledge and experiences. She gladly agreed, as reflected in the following question and answer segment. Q: At what point did you recognize the necessity of being on the same page and the potential damage when you’re not working as a team?
Carol: I noticed that every time my husband would blame me and I would react, our son used those opportunities to manipulate each of us against the other. He quickly learned how to press our buttons and, over time, he refined his technique. It was astounding to see how our lack of cohesiveness gave him such power. There’s something else that came to my attention. I put in a lot of efforts with my newer tools. And often, my husband’s attitude and behaviors either compromised or sabotaged those efforts. I wasn’t only disappointed and frustrated, I began feeling resentment toward him. Q: Given that your husband and you were not on the same page, how did you cope? And do you feel there is a resolution to this challenge?
Carol: The truth is I didn’t and I still don’t have a specific mechanism in place when my husband goes into blame mode. I can tell you, though, what I “won’t” do, and that is to pick up the ball and throw it back; I won’t fight back. I also won’t put my husband down in front of my children. Then my choice is to keep quiet or to make a quiet statement to my husband, and I play that by ear. As far as a resolution to this challenge, perhaps for my purposes the resolution is along the lines of something powerful I learned about myself. I shifted my approach toward my husband and started using many of the same tools I used in parenting such as communicating and listening more effectively. Q: Did you feel you could work on changing your husband?
Carol: After having tried several years to change my husband, it finally dawned on me that I couldn’t change him any more than I could change my son. And so I gave it up. Besides, in the long run, you set yourself up for failure. If someone is going to change, that’s great! But don’t start out with the intentions and expectations that your efforts will get the person to change. It’s unrealistic and you’re only headed toward disappointment. Q: What was it like when you implemented effective tools and your husband’s approach was diametrically opposed to yours?
Carol: I felt alone because there was no one to validate my success. I also tried to protect my son as well as my other children but I couldn’t protect them totally. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized the extent of the damage. Q: Were your newer parenting tools helpful to you beyond parenting?
Carol: I realized that the newer way I was parenting my child spilled over into other relationships in my life, especially my marriage. Just as our child needed to be validated and praised, so did my husband. I stepped out of the negative mold – of being critical and judgmental – and focused on being compassionate and understanding of his feelings and childhood issues. These same tools were also helpful to me in my work place (with my boss) and with family members. Since the tools are relationship-based, you’re working on your character traits all the time. And you’re learning how to create and maintain happier, healthier and more productive relationships with people who are important to you. The process of educating yourself brings you to a place where you become aware of your behaviors and habits and how they affect others. For example, I was always a negative person, and now that I’m aware of it, I notice it in others and how unhelpful it is in maintaining relationships. Q: Do you have any suggestions that might help other women?
Carol: Here are two approaches I tried. Perhaps it may work for some.
Suggestion 1: I processed with my husband the impact of what he was doing to our son. For example, if our son was being defiant and my husband would give him the cold shoulder, rather than criticizing him for this method, I discussed the approach with him. “Do you think ignoring him will get him to comply?
Will he learn right from wrong?
Did your father ignore you and hope that you’d get it on your own?
Did you like being parented with that approach?
How did it make you feel?”
I then explained to my husband what I had learned: When a child is in conflict and he’s defiant, most likely he’s unhappy with himself as well as with life. And when a parent ignores this (already) unhappy child, the child will become further unhappy. So will this unhappy child be more or less likely to be compliant? Suggestion 2: I spoke to a rav or friend whom my husband trusted, and asked him to engage my husband in conversation, gently and compassionately, about the challenges with our son. Q: What concluding message would you like to share with the readership?
Carol: It’s very easy to get down when your spouse is not on the same page. The challenge is to work hard on yourself so that you achieve a state of happiness and serenity. And when you’re able to reach that place, you serve as a beacon for the child in conflict and your other children.
* * *
On a professional note, my observations and experiences during these past few years have led me to categorize parents of struggling teens into three groups. The ideal situation is when both parents are on the same page. They may not always agree on an approach or a decision. When a difference of opinion exists, they will evaluate the situation until a joint decision is reached before proceeding with a strategy. Or they will seek professional guidance to help them through the challenge.
The second group is made up of the non-interferer. In this case, one spouse will give full authority for the other to implement a newer parenting approach without interfering. And finally there is the couple that is not on the same page. One spouse usually compromises the efforts of the other. And, often (although not necessarily deliberately), that spouse’s attitudes and behaviors will sabotage the efforts of the parent who is diligently working to stabilize the home environment with effective parenting tools. Where are you within those groups? And if you are in the range of the last group, you may want to look to Carol for inspiration and take that first step.
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 email@example.com.
Attention Ladies: With Yom Tov behind you, and the school year underway, take the time to regroup. Learn how you can diminish power struggles with your teens; learn how the “10-Commandments of Listening” can help you respond to your teen instead of reacting; learn how to coach your teen with empowering tools. Join a four-week Teleconference Coaching Workshop – Tuesdays, November 11-18-25 & December 2, 2008 from 9:00-10:00 p.m. (EST). For registration information contact Debbie Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org 215-745-3596.