“Start your engines. On your mark…get set…GO!!! ” It is not uncommon to hear this and immediately think of a NASCAR race, right down to the checkered flag, the Winner’s Circle, and champagne shower and victory lap. Unfortunately, this is also often the subconscious mindset of many co-parents who descend into an adversarial relationship and begin the race for their child’s attention, love, and affection.
Revving up this engine is a crash and burn and ultimately everyone loses the race, particularly the child. Here’s why:
- Letting your child run the show falls flat. “Just Say No” is not just a catchy slogan for D.A.R.E. It is a way to teach children the importance of compromise and patience. How many times have you seen a child in a store begging for candy? The parent says “no” and an all-out tantrum ensues. While it can be beneficial for children to test their boundaries, saying “no” doesn’t make you a bad parent. Teaching your child to accept “no” dispels that wicked feeling of entitlement and replaces it with the ability to accept that things may not always go their way. The skills you teach your children today are tools they use as adults. Being the pushover parent will not make you the favored parent. It makes you the easy parent.
- Failing to discipline your child(ren) kills the engine. How many times have children said “if you do (disfavored action), then I’m going to (inappropriate conduct),” only for it to be followed by the child asking, “can I go back to (other parent’s) house?” This can be extremely frustrating, deflating, and disheartening. This a sneaky method that children often use to manipulate the situation to try to get what they want at that time. Children being upset over their discipline is normal. That doesn’t make you the bad parent; rather, it is a sure sign that you are doing something right by teaching that the child must accept the consequences of her behavior and choices. It teaches the child accountability, a life lesson that gets lost when a child’s poor behavior is ignored for fear of him or her disliking you. The goal should be to reform, not condone, excuse, and enable.
- “Divide and conquer” will cause you to lose the race. Children are master manipulators. They are observant and learn how to quickly assess a situation to effortlessly maneuver it to their advantage. Don’t let your child set you up against the other parent. Children will exploit every one of their parents’ weaknesses, particularly your understandable dislike for the other parent. The best way to overcome this artful strategy is to build a better co-parenting relationship with that other parent. Learn to talk and brainstorm with the other parent about ways to raise your child and collaborate on what it is that you want the child to learn, how you want them to behave, and what values you want them to embody.
Always remember: your children reflect both parents. Parenting is not a competition, and custody is not a zero-sum game. Saying “no” is necessary. Discipline is necessary. Although building a strong, close relationship with your child is essential to their development, there is a healthy balance required between being your child’s friend and parent.
Don’t race against the other parent to the finish line. That only runs over your child. Parenting is not NASCAR. Parenting, when done well, is cooperative, not competitive. If parenting is a race at all, it is only won when you finish it together.