The Downside of Imagination
Imaginary conversations killed our marriage … almost.
During our first decade of parenting together, so many of the ‘conversations' Elaine and I had about expectations around parenting were imaginary. They never took place out loud.
The truth is that when Elaine tried to talk to me about what our kids needed and what we needed to change, I became defensive. I took it personally. I felt wrong. Over time, she became exhausted at the prospect of yet another battle. We stopped even trying…for a while.
When one parent feels like s/he is doing it alone, resentment builds. Communication grinds to a halt.
What changed for us in parenting together?
Of course, it's never as simple as one thing. Many things changed over a period of many years. But what's clear to us now is that we never gave up on each other or on the family we wanted to create with each other. And Elaine never gave up on me. Even when we weren't on the same page, Elaine trusted that my intentions were good. Over time, as she learned more about ADHD, she found ways to share her learning with me despite my defensiveness. We began to have conversations with less judgment, less resentment, and more acceptance of each other and our kids.
Elaine and I shifted the focus to alignment rather than agreement. Trying to come to an agreement tends to turn a conversation towards convincing. “Once you see it my way, then you are seeing it the ‘right' way.” (Think about politics these days.) Alignment allows you to anchor the conversation around what is important rather than who is ‘right.'
We looked at what we wanted for the kids, for the tone of our home, and for each other. With clarity around what we wanted, the parenting decisions were no longer based on who had the better argument or who could wear down the other. We started testing decisions against a child-centric threshold: “Would this option move us closer to, or farther away from, what we want for our family?”
The issues to be addressed ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: from medication options to who drove carpool; from nutritional management to kid-specific bedtimes; from private-vs-public school to laundry days.
A Beautiful Paradox
When you step away from the agreement/convincing path and start towards alignment, agreement tends to happen quite naturally.
Managing a child with ADHD is much easier when parents work together as a team. Parents who are intentional about seeking & maintaining alignment – who are committed to getting & staying on the same page – are the ones who Enjoy the Ride.
This week — take some time to start a new conversation. Ask what's important to your co-parenting partner and what they want for the kids and as you are parenting together.
LISTEN. Get curious. Ask questions.
Then, after you've really listened, share what's important to you, what you want for your kids, and what you want for the parenting partnership. Don't try to make any major decisions. Just invite the opportunity to explore each other's perspectives and look for commonality.
After that, see what happens. As you find areas where you are aligned, allow natural places for agreement to unfold. And then celebrate the success … “rinse and repeat”!