I was listening to Kim Olver’s podcast interview with Sue Kranz recently where she speaks on parenting using Choice Theory. One of the issues she discusses in the podcast is whether parents need to be “on the same page”. This struck a chord with me because of the parenting journey my husband and I had been on through our sons’ teen years. What follows is the reflection on that journey and why I agree with Sue Kranz that parents do not need to be “on the same page”.
When my son Ali became a teen, my husband Nat and I were concerned by his use of electronics, particularly gaming. He would spend hours online which we tried to control with timers, with bribery, with threats. Nothing that we did made any bit of difference when it came to his behaviour. That was the hard lesson that we could only control our behaviour, not his.
Ali had other issues that led us to seek help at The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre in Toronto, a mental health agency for children and youth (now merged with Sick-Kids Hospital). The social workers there followed what is common to their current model to help us “get on the same page”. Nat and I attended bi-weekly sessions for the good part of a year where they thought we had finally achieved this. Ultimately, what this achieved was to place a lot of pressure on our relationship because what the social workers could not do was to tell us who was right and who was wrong. This was our second lesson. Sue Kranz when faced with a situation in her parent support group where members suggested that a couple needed “to be on the same page”, asked the question: “so who has the right page?”.
At this point Nat and I were suffering from therapy fatigue and we stopped our sessions. Ali’s behaviour continued, so we were no further ahead than when we started.
Somewhere in there I began attending a parent support group. Nat would not come with me but I felt I was getting the support I needed to keep moving forward. In particular, there were times that I anticipated an issue with Ali and with the help of the group in formulating an action plan, I was able to resolve them. I had been a pushover mom when it came to things like buying him new games. He would wear me down with his constant demands. I learned how to say no and to follow through on boundaries that I set for myself. In effect I was learning to parent the way I wanted to parent regardless of what Nat did.
Nat was surprised at some of the solutions I was using. He wanted to know how I had come up with it. I only had one answer: “my parent group”. This did not mean that we did not have our disagreements on how to deal with things. Nat did believe that unless I agreed with him and carried out what approach he wanted I was undermining him. However, similar to what Sue Kranz suggested, I came to the realization that we each had to parent in our own way.
There was an issue where I tried to intervene that was driving me crazy. Nat’s background is Italian. His family has always placed importance on food and particularly that parents must ensure that all children are properly fed and never go hungry. What that looked like in our household, was that he would take food to the kids wherever they were when he thought they needed feeding. He stopped doing this with Ali when he started refusing the food. Noel, our younger son, picked up on Nat’s need and would think nothing of demanding food whenever he wanted. Nat will drop what he is doing to fulfill this by going to the kitchen and bringing Noel the desired food. Noel would do the same with me. At some point, I started directing him to the kitchen to help himself. He quickly learned that mom would not do this for him any more. I had achieved my boundary. However, Noel continued with this behaviour with Nat. When I tried to intervene and suggest to Nat that he could set his own boundary, they both told me to butt out of their relationship, because this was one of the ways they interacted. Nat still takes food to Noel in this manner to this day and I have had to accept that while I can set a boundary for myself, it is up to Nat to set his own.
Do our kids know the difference between Nat and me? I think they always have. Now that I don’t feel the need to have a united front, our household is more serene. Nat and I each have our own relationship with each of our sons. When Nat tries to pressure me into speaking with either of our sons to do what he thinks is best for them, I suggest he speak with them directly. I totally agree with Sue Kranz that Nat and I are now modelling a relationship where we can live harmoniously in a household with someone you don’t agree with all the time, that you can still be respectful, you can still like each other, love each other, have a good time together, and not feel that the other person has to get on board with you or that you have to get on board with them.
- Member of Toronto Central Chapter – APSGO