It’s important for mothers and fathers to be a strong team in the great — and sometimes amazingly difficult — undertaking of raising a family. The results include consistent parenting, a fair sharing of the load, and fewer quarrels. Through our professional experiences and personal lessons, we’ve found that a cooperative parental partnership has three key qualities: communication, negotiation, and effective problem-solving.
Past columns have explored communication, including civil and empathic ways of speaking, how to give emotional support, and being open and direct. In the next few columns, we will present effective ways to bridge disagreements, create workable compromises, establish accountability, and follow through on promises — in short, how two parents can negotiate well with each other.
The Bad News
Parents need to learn how to negotiate for a simple reason: The average couple has eight times as many arguments after children arrive. As the conflicts and disappointments mount up, trust is replaced by doubt and guardedness. You once stood at the altar thinking you could place your life in your partner’s hands. Now you can find yourself eyeing him or her as an unreliable character who must be cajoled or corralled into reasonable and helpful behavior. And there’s a fair chance that’s how your partner is looking at you.
Issues related to parenting last as long as kids do, so if they are not resolved, the same quarrel happens over and over, and the issue becomes sensitized. It’s like running your fingernail over the same spot on the back of your hand: the first twenty times do not make much difference, but by the hundredth, there’s a red welt and you want to jerk your hand away when the fingernail approaches. Relatively minor provocations then trigger major reactions, like a light bump to your hand that now really hurts.