Nancy Weinstein offers a mother’s contrarian view, admittedly developed out of desperation
Is a United Front in Parenting Essential?
Conventional wisdom dictates the importance of children experiencing a united front in parenting when it comes to rules, discipline and behavior. If Dad says it, Mom needs to back him up. And vice versa. Otherwise, psychologists tell us, children will feel confused and not have the structure they need to feel safe and secure.
According to Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., author of The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, “My advice is that if your child is not yet eleven or so, you and your spouse should do what you can to present a united front. It will make life a lot easier for your child if you work out your disagreements and keep them private.”
But what if the conventional wisdom about a united front in parenting is no longer true? Just consider our children’s 21st century needs. Ten is now the average age for a child to get a smartphone. Perhaps 11 years old is too late for children to understand how reasonable adults can disagree.
Don’t get me wrong. Clearly there are times, especially with younger kids, where there is a single right answer. You don’t steal. You keep your hands to yourself. You don’t lie. But there are plenty of times when the answers aren’t clear cut.
Could it be healthy for children to watch debates play out in the safety and security of their own home? Is it possible that the benefits could sometimes outweigh the risks? Would kids learn how to see a problem from others’ point of view? Would they be more open different viewpoints? We know parents are children’s first and most important teachers. Is it possible that children miss out when parents present issues as always having a single answer without room for negotiation? Maybe children NEED to see what really goes on behind the united front in parenting.
Potential Benefits of Parental Disagreements
I posed these questions to Dr. Wendy Matthews, a clinical child psychologist and Mindprint advisor. She suggested that it could indeed be healthy for children to watch debates play out, as long as they are conducted calmly and respectfully. As she explained, “Children struggle greatly with situations of high emotional intensity. But modeling positive problem-solving and mature resolution of differences, free of an air of conflict, could be helpful.”
Then I looked back on the list the World Economic Forum released as their top most important workforce skills in 2020. When parents respectfully debate an issue, they can effectively model at least 8 of these skills: Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, People Management, Coordinating with Others, Emotional Intelligence, Judgment and Decision Making, Negotiation and Cognitive Flexibility.
The WEF only released their top 10 list a year ago, so there’s no research on which parenting strategies are most likely to lead to success in the WEF’s top 10 skills. But perhaps we need to at least consider if some of our long-held “universal truths” of parenting might need to be re-visited.
Or maybe this is simply the wishful thinking of a mother who could never convince her husband of the importance of a united front in parenting. A mom who found herself debating important issues in plain view of her two young children, despite her best efforts.
Nancy Weinstein is the co-founder and CEO of Mindprint Learning, a company she started with her husband and college sweetheart, Eric. Nancy and Eric live with their two middle school daughters in New Jersey.
Regardless of your parenting approach, you can help kids develop the WEF Skills. Last year we wrote our top strategies for parents and teachers: