A few weeks ago, my husband and I found ourselves on the opposite sides of the parenting net. My daughter was in tears over something that happened in school. “I don’t have friends because I don’t like the things other kids like,” she said. “They talk about things I don’t like. I only like anime, manga, comic books. Why can’t I find friends like me?”
I then defended her and launched into a tirade about why it was okay for her to wait and meet the right kind of friend who would share her interest, instead of forcing herself to like things that she clearly didn’t. I’d rather be alone than fit in, I declared, but my husband disagreed. The world has many different people in it and in order to get along, we need to meet people mid-way and yes, compromise.
The idealist and the libertarian in me protested vehemently, and the realist in my husband begged to disagree. In the middle of it all, our daughter sat, anxious and confused.
It was during this particularly daunting exchange that I realized that the person who stood to lose the most was my daughter. Was I setting healthy boundaries for her and communicating the right message? I decided to take a step back and look at the situation objectively. I firmly believe that compromise should not be the bedrock of our existence but we are part of the world after all. I found that in this case my husband’s argument had its merits. I didn’t want my daughter to be an island. I wanted her to have friends and healthy relationships.
It is natural for a child’s parents to have opposite points of view when it comes to parenting, but the problem arises when in trying to negotiate the different outlooks, we fight over who is right or wrong. In the process, we forget to address the real problem: helping our child.
The upside is that not seeing eye-to-eye with your partner when it comes to parenting is actually an opportunity to unlearn stereotypes and truly work on a shared value system. Experts suggest some tips.
Work as a parenting team and build strong communication
Neelu Kapur, a parenting coach based in Bengaluru, believes that when parents think of parenting as a team effort, it immediately shifts attention to the most important goal - raising a happy child. When parents don’t operate as a team or in sync with each other, it starts showing up clearly in the child’s behavior. “It is extremely important to present a joint front for your child,” she says. She advises parents to sit down at least twice a year to understand their child’s stage of development and its unique challenges.
Aparna Ramadurai, a Pune-based parent of an 8-year-old daughter, clashed with her husband over many aspects of his parenting style. “My husband is very strict and he gets angry quickly,” she says. “One day when my daughter forgot her glasses in school, my husband shouted at her and told her that if she loses her glasses again, God will punish her. My daughter came crying to me and it took a while to explain the situation to her in a more realistic and sensible way instead of the way he just did.” When Ramadurai confronted her husband, she realised that their communication styles were vastly different and this made it tough to negotiate viewpoints. They sought counselling to work through these challenges.
It is important for parents to have a communication channel that is always open so that they can devise parenting strategies that are agreeable to both.
Develop a shared value system
Kapur believes that in a rapidly evolving society, most parents have not figured out the values that they really want to work with. Our own values stem from our past experiences and our understanding of developments across the globe, apart from our child’s personality. When we develop a sound value system for our parenting, the road ahead becomes a little clearer.
Anil Kondvilkar is based in Mumbai and has two boys, aged 10 and 6. When he and his wife found themselves disagreeing on their parenting styles, they decided to sit down and understand why they acted a certain way. “We based it loosely on principles of ‘inner child healing’ process,” he says.
"We realised that we were harbouring a lot of trauma, angst and wrong patterns from our own upbringing. We have discussed about what both of us missed, loved and feared as children. It was a great exercise that revealed our biases and now we consciously try to do things differently with our kids. We had to unlearn stereotypes in areas like discipline, [our attitude towards those] who provide a service to us, tech usage, and even in our choice of toys!”
Parenting is a challenge but it is also a great opportunity to understand and work on ourselves too. As parents, we do not need to agree all the time. We just need the freedom to be ourselves and simultaneously work together to raise an emotionally resilient human being.
Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.