The importance of boundaries in the family unit
It’s common for loving couples who are perfectly compatible to experience some challenges when children come on the scene. Differing styles of communication and views on respect, boundaries and appropriate discipline can wreak havoc in formerly peaceful relationships. Clinical views point to conflict arising due to differing belief systems stemming from our childhood upbringing. Some parents may reflect on their childhood experience and make a conscious effort to raise their children differently, whilst others will use their positive experience to model what they consider good parenting. In both scenarios, the adult’s individual experiences of the world, shape their ongoing actions, beliefs and expectations of their own children. Given each person’s unique life experiences and belief system, is it not surprising that conflicting opinions arise when it comes to raising children. As challenging as it may be, for the benefit of the child and the family unit, it is important for parents to be on the same page when it comes to parenting.
A unified approach
A consistent, unified approach amongst parents demonstrates to children that there is no flexibility on set boundaries. Parenting styles may differ amongst couples and this is normal, one may have a more relaxed approach and another a firm communication style but when it comes to family boundaries the lines should not blur. Children can sense when there is a rift, and this can lead to children manipulating parents or trying to form an alliance. It’s unrealistic to assume parents will agree on every situation that arises, after all you are two different people with unique personal views but arguing in front of children is not ideal, so statements like “can we discuss this later” is the recommended approach. Discussing the matter privately, away from prying ears will mean you can come to a compromised resolution on how to parent in the circumstances and move forward with a unified front. If discipline has already been actioned, it is important not to undermine your partner in front of your children unless you feel they are emotionally or physically in harm’s way.
Listen to one another
Try to understand each other’s perspectives and the reasoning for each approach. If you find your spouse has a particularly strong view on a matter compared to your own, perhaps give them the opportunity to showcase why this might be the best approach.
Setting boundaries for your children does not mean setting a bunch of rules, it means empowering the child to take responsibility for his or her action. Authors of ‘Boundaries with Kids: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Help Your Children’, (Henry Cloud, John Sims Townsend and Lisa Guest) talks to this notion; “Boundaries play an important role in managing. Setting limits and requiring the child to take ownership (embracing the problem as his own) and responsibility (taking care of what he has embraced) entail a clear understanding of boundaries.” It may take time to develop certain boundaries, particularly as children grow and responsibilities change. Expectations of tasks and the idea of the family unit working together as a team is important for children to understand and for parents to be consistent in affirming.
Counselling can help
Sometimes it can be difficult to see each other’s perspective and understand differences when tensions are running high. When differences in parenting are causes ongoing conflict in your family, it can be beneficial to have the help of an impartial professional to explore differences in parenting and each other’s perspective and emotional needs. With the overarching goal of family harmony, a psychologist can help turn family conflict into practical resolutions. By building on the individual strengths of each person in the relationship, you can make positive changes that benefit all.