Jason’s dad loved sports as a youngster, and encouraged athletic participation from the time his son was a toddler. This caused tremendous conflict between the parents, as Jason’s mom felt her son’s interests were only intended to gain his dad’s approval.
Anna’s mom was fascinated by the program “Toddlers and Tiaras” and began enrolling her five-year-old daughter in local beauty pageants, which dad felt were primarily attended by “sexual perverts.” After two events, he told his wife that their marriage was in serious jeopardy if she ever brought their daughter to another pageant.
These are tough issues to resolve in a marriage because the disagreements are about goals, not strategies. When parents agree on the outcome (e.g., decrease temper tantrums), it’s easy for most parents to compromise and consistently try one strategy for several weeks. Keep careful records, and change the approach if the problem continues.
There’s no quick way to resolve arguments about goals. Is it a worthwhile activity for Jason to play basketball or for Anna to participate in beauty pageants? These are not questions that can be answered by some expert in child psychology, but rather reflect fundamental parental values. Here is the road map to help resolve such dilemmas.
1. Follow the law of moderation. One of the many things I’ve learned from families in my office is to avoid extremes in parenting. When in doubt, follow a moderate approach. Perhaps Anna participates in a few pageants every year rather than every month. Maybe Jason signs up for one sport rather than three.
2. Be guided by your child’s interests and skills. Jason’s dad finally admitted that his son had modest athletic ability and would probably never obtain an athletic scholarship to college. The parents should help Jason develop a life-long interest in health and physical exercise rather than investing an inordinate amount of time in team sports. The issues with Anna’s parents were more problematic, as it was difficult to determine Anna’s real interest in beauty contests. However, after several “meltdowns” at pageants, even her mom began to question the value of these events.
3. Compromise. It was troublesome that Anna’s dad threatened divorce if he didn’t get his way. Raising children is all about not getting what you want most of the time. You need to figure out how to communicate and compromise with your child and your spouse. Ultimatums are generally not a good negotiation strategy.
4. Stay focused on what matters. Here’s my latest list of the skills our kids need to be successful adults—integrity, self-control, resiliency, persistency, communication, problem-solving and emotional intelligence. Encourage your kids to participate in activities that help them acquire those key skills.