Do you love your spouse but find it hard to parent together? If so, you are not alone. We care about parenting so very, very deeply that it is hard to be reasonable when it comes to our kids. It is often a shock when our parenting partner has a very different idea about what is appropriate. So, yes, it is hard. On the other hand, Penn State reported in 2015 in a 7-year longitudinal study that “Parents who have better co-parenting relations feel more supported and confident, less stressed and depressed and they show more warmth and patience with their children” (19 January 2015). I love this! So many parents ask me how to keep their temper when they are overwhelmed. This study shows that having the articulated support of your parenting partner buffets you against stress and being at the end of your rope.
A big component of the study was teaching parents to communicate effectively. So here are 3 communication tips to review or learn to help you be the best partner you can be:
TIP 1: ACTIVE LISTENING
Active listening refers to listening with the purpose of allowing one’s partner to reveal what is on his mind. But more than that, it really means listening without judgment and wanting to know not just the facts of the story or issue but what is in the speaker’s heart.
Here’s how to do it:
- Listen: Don’t comment, disagree or evaluate.
- Use your body: Eye contact, head nods, brief comments like “yes” or “uh-huh.”
- Prompt information: Tell me more. What else? What is important about that?
- Repeat back: Recap the gist said and wager a guess at the emotions present.
I recommend practicing this first with topics that are not controversial. For example, you might ask your partner about a happy childhood memory or a person he admires. Your main purpose in using active listening is to open up space in the relationship. By really digging into your partner’s feelings and motivations first you activate your own empathy and secondly you gather a lot of information about what is important to your partner (which provides you useful data when you are looking for places to find happy solutions that will work for you both). It feels good to be listened to. Think back to early in your relationship. Chances are you listened to your partner hanging on her every word. Just giving your partner that rapt attention again can bring those loving feelings he had when he courted you.
Once you have mastered active listening with noncontroversial topics, introduce a topic that could become more touchy like “What is a lesson you would really like our kids to learn?” This can be a scary question because your spouse might say something that really throws you for a loop like “I’d really like the kids to learn to hang glide.” Your comfort levels might immediately go into high alert. What?! Teach the kids something that dangerous?! What kind of responsible parent lets his kids up into the sky attached to a giant kite?! If you can take a deep breath, however, and settle down into some active listening, you are like to learn something really interesting. Perhaps your spouse did it as a young man and it is the most alive he has ever felt and he wants the kids to experience that intense appreciation for being alive. Perhaps he felt closer to God. Perhaps he was terrified doing it but having done it, nothing in life has ever been as scary, and he wants his kids to know that facing their fears will serve them later in life. Imagine how different you would feel listening to your spouse share such a meaningful experience and how touched you would be that he wants he children to experience something that meaningful, too.
Listening Actively does not mean you have to give in to your children doing something you really disapprove of but having listened, you are now in a position to thoughtfully suggest an alternative. The very act of listening will make your partner feel seen and appreciated, making him or her more ready to hear your ideas. The best part of active listening is that your partner does not have to know that you are using it or be trained in it. Yes, it does make things easier if he or she knows because than you have a great chance of being listened to thoughtfully in return, but even if not, your listening will register as love and respect that willl invite the same in return.
Come back next week for Tips 2 and 3.
Joyful Parenting Coaching