Sometimes it’s surprising that the divorce rate isn’t actually higher than it is (about 46% in the U.S.). Assuming it isn’t just inertia on the part of the 54%, it’s a tribute to the willingness of so many couples to work out their differences.
Fortunately, most parents will agree on one thing: the children should not be put in the middle of these conflicts. Avoiding that result requires skill, maturity, tact and compromise.
To work out reasonably consistent policies to cover the thousands of different real-life experiences of family life requires careful thought. It also takes a willingness to be frank about what each partner wants and views as fair. It requires buckets of honesty.
Each parent needs to be willing to face reality and be reasonable. That’s difficult to do in states of high emotion and about subjects that are important like those involving how to raise children. Just as in society in general, when one party simply bulls another to achieve a short-term gain the result is frustration, injured feelings and often a violation of simple justice.
A willingness to recognize, despite anger or irritation, that the other party has a valid point of view and a vested interest in the outcome, requires considerable objectivity. But objectivity doesn’t have to mean emotional or value neutrality, simply a willingness to see things as they are.
One thing that will help encourage that objectivity is the realization that each party has an equal stake in the larger issue – the welfare of the child.
That shared interest can form the basis of a mutual effort to discuss different evaluations, background that may be exerting biasing factors and other barriers to a satisfactory arrangement. But when each party makes a sincere effort (or more accurately, repeated efforts), such resolutions are possible.
Successful marriages are fundamentally those in which each partner genuinely admires and cares for the other. That forms the basis of respect that children both observe and absorb over time. That respect and admiration makes it possible to see the larger picture and longer-term goal – a compromise that doesn’t simply leave both parties exhausted or unfulfilled.
Mature parents will ultimately realize that no single disagreement is likely to be so important that it’s worth harming the happiness of the family members. You don’t burn the house down because you don’t like the color of the drapes. Respectful parents will see that one may get his or her way this time, but the next time the partners point of view will prevail.
Few concrete objects or circumstances are so important that no compromise is possible. What time to have dinner, or how clean the house should be, or what time the child should be home from outdoor activities, or even what college to attend… the list is endless. But only in the rarest of cases is it overwhelmingly important that one point of view must prevail for all time.
In every case listed, and many more, it’s healthy to try one person’s preference, then experiment with another if the results are less than satisfactory. Viewing the process as ongoing allows each parent to feel his or her values are respected.
The child benefits doubly from this. He or she gains the best possible outcome, discovered by experience. The child also sees that Mom and Dad can disagree while still respecting one another’s points of view. The child sees honesty and reason at work in an atmosphere of admiration and love. The latter may well be the best lesson of all.