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Parent to Parent: How to Work Together without Judgment

Posted by Jen on February 10, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Parenting tips
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It's bound to happen. You're in a conversation with a spouse or another parent about some aspect of child development, education or parenting and you get your buttons pushed. Or worse--you find yourself in a discussion with a partner or relative over how to handle kid conflict and you stumble into someone else's sweet spot of insecurity or defensiveness. How do you keep your conversations positive so you can work together to give your kids the parental support they deserve?

Ask questions first. Sometimes I think I understand a situation, even after hearing just a few sentences. It's easy in these instances to jump in with an opinion or advice and be on my way. But sometimes--especially when someone is really upset or struggling--there's a lot going on behind the scenes that make the circumstances much more complicated than I could possibly realize. The best way to avoid an unwanted fight is to check my assumptions by asking questions first. By asking for more information, I give the other person a chance to reflect. I give myself a chance to really understand what's going on.

Listen for the need. A lot of times we talk, talk, talk about the problem--usually about what someone else is doing that is driving us nuts--be it a child, spouse or friend. Things tend to resolve more quickly, however, when we can identify what we really need. Whether you are the one in crisis or you are trying to offer support to someone who is, things don't start moving in a positive direction until our needs are on the table. One thing we can do for each other as parents and friends is try to help each other identify what we really need. Here's the short list of things that parents need while raising kids: support, encouragement, factual information, friendship, knowledge of current research/trends, mentoring, appreciation.

Notice the emotion. Even when someone is asking for advice, many times what they really need first is understanding and empathy. When those two things are in place, it is much easier to really listen deeply to the input from people around you. Without understanding and empathy, all the advice in the world doesn't feel quite right--and you can even feel attacked, when the other person was just trying to help. Try this experiment: Listen to the problem and try to guess what emotion they are experiencing. Then check to see if you were right. "Wow! Are you feeling frustrated about this situation? or are you more disappointed?" Presenting your guess as a question helps everyone involved feel safe and heard.

Pay attention to your gut. If you feel your blood pressure rise when you read a particular article, there's a chance that you have some important history with this topic that demands your full attention. For example, I had a very traumatic birth with Carter, so I'm not exactly the most objective person in the world when people start offering the same advice I took before things headed south. In these cases, I know it's better for me to take a step back and not jump into the conversation until I can offer my advice without judgment or an agenda. The tell-tale sign this is happening? When I think there is only ONE way to address the problem.

Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. When conflicts arise between partners, know that you both care tremendously about what happens regarding your children's well-being. There's no one expert on parenting and there's no one expert on child development. Consider the possibility that you both have something significant to bring to the table.

How do you handle conflicts over kids or parenting advice when you and your partner or friend disagree?


hsofia writes...

Nice piece!

Lee writes...

This is a good, common sense article. The years we were raising our children, try as we may, we often didn't see eye to eye and conflicts ensued. I like your lead in to discussions by asking questions first. I think it defrays the escalation of conflict, if you can take the position of listener and take an interest in your partners perceptive before launching into you diatribe of how you see and want things... no matter how much you feel you are right. Gauging the emotional state of the other is a helpful tip, as well. Learning to step back AND give the other the benefit of the doubt is a gracious and healing practice. Thank you.

joanne writes...

You offer some really great advice, the problem is that there's just not enough time when you are raising young children to have these kinds of conversations!
Especially if you're not used to using these techniques, it will take more time to get comfortable with them...
How do I handle conflict? Avoid it at all costs! I was raised by an abusive marine... I am working on trying to at least defend myself...
It is even more difficult because child development is my field of expertise, but now that i'm a mom and not a teacher, I've learned through trial and error that other moms don't appreciate advice, no matter how well meaning!
Like you said, people want to vent and often by talking things out come up with their own solution...

Worthy writes...

Just shut up. That's my rule. I can't tell people how to be better parents. I'm concerned about me being a better parent. I'm not interested in other parents' advice. I'm a parent of an asperger's kid and a "normal" little sister of his. Explaining the situation every time the subject of kids comes up just makes me want to vomit.

Carrie writes...

I have had an incredibly difficult time raising my daughter. Now that I'm a single mom, I treasure every bit of advice that comes my way...solicited or not. Why? Because I can draw on all of these words to find the solutions to my problems. As long as we are honest about how we are currently handling the situation, having other peoples (parents and non-parents) words of wisdom and encouragement can really make a difference. I like the idea of having as many plays in my play book as possible for when it's game-time!

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