Parenting seems to bring a never-ending stream of conflicts and challenges. There is the daily challenge of meeting all the deadlines and timelines of daily life for yourself and one, two, or more additional people.
Add to that the stress of conferences, sporting events, and performances where you feel judged as a parent, and there are a lot of chances for conflict with your partner.
Do you find yourself always wanting to give your child’s coach or teacher a piece of your mind, and wondering why your spouse does not feel the same way? Or maybe there was a small incident and your partner became irrational and angry far more than the situation called for?
These situations can happen less often if you follow these steps to set meaningful parenting goals together with your partner. Today.
First, list everything you hope your child will accomplish
This simple process starts by identifying your hopes and fears for your child, and working to promote the best outcomes while preventing the worst ones.
You know that as you held your child in a warm blanket at the hospital, or brought them home from an adoption agency, you had a vision of the future. Perhaps you saw them winning a chess tournament, curing cancer, graduating from college, or speaking to employees at their successful dot.com startup.
Whatever the dreams are, write them down. You and your partner together. Just brainstorm. Just write.
Get them all on paper.
Second, focus on what is important
Now that you have all of these listed, see if they fall into groups. Perhaps one of you listed a lot of accomplishments that require academic success or effort – that’s a group. Perhaps there are several sports-related items. That’s a group.
If there are simply a list of qualities – smart, fair, honest, caring – that’s fine. Let those stand as they are.
For each group of items, think of the skills that are needed to accomplish that. Going back to the earlier example, if you have a lot of sports-related items, one necessary ingredient will be “athletic” or perhaps “fit.” If you envision a doctor’s robe, you might put “educated.”
Now you are getting to the heart of your list.
Instead of specific accomplishments – like perhaps your husband’s dream that your son will grow up to be the starting pitcher for the Devil Rays, or your wife’s hope that he will become a wide receiver for the Dolphins – you are focusing on the broader picture. You want your child to be fit and active.
You can’t control what happens in detail – the specifics are the product of a broad range of factors beyond anyone’s understanding or ability to manage them. However, you can agree on what is important and within your influence.
Third, examine your list and shorten it
Your list should now contain only adjectives – that is, words that describe who your child will be and how they will be, not what they will be.
There is no right number of descriptive words here. This list could be pretty long and still be okay. Perhaps there should be more than 7, but less than 20. That feels manageable.
If you have more than 20, you might want to put the descriptions into three categories, similar to ones we have used before for other important decisions.
Decide whether each description is
- Crucial – these are qualities that your child MUST have. They are important to both of you and your families, and lead to a quality life. For instance, being “honest” is often a quality that our society values above others.
- Important – these characteristics do not rise to the level of “crucial” but they are nonetheless worth mentioning. These might not all be part of the top-level description of your future adult, but they are, well, important.
- Nice – these are qualities your child might have that are endearing or engaging, but are not the most important thing. For instance, perhaps you want your child to be “engaging” with others. This is not a requirement for a fulfilling life, though it might be nice to have and it might open important doors for them down the road.
Discuss this list in detail, over dinner, and draw that conversation out for several days. When it stops filling your conversational space, it is ready.
Now you have a clear list of descriptions that you want to be true for your child several years down the road.
How does this reduce conflict? Great question. Read on …
Finally, use your list as a tie-breaker and guide
Now that you have described the adult you want your child to be, you have a guide to resolving conflicts around … well, almost everything.
If you and your partner disagree about how to respond to an incident on the playground, revert to the list. Was your child demonstrating one or more of the values you want them to develop? If not, then you should be united in correcting the issue.
Perhaps a trusted adult has corrected your child and your partner is now angry at the adult. Ask yourself if the correction was in line with your values list. If it was, your partner may be reacting to something else other than a desire to protect your child.
Check to see if each point of conflict deals with one or more of the traits you hope to develop in your child.
This will not eliminate every conflict. However, you can use this vision of the future to help decide which things are worth arguing about and acting on, and which things you can let go. This helps reduce conflict and make daily life a little easier.