Parenting Tip: Don't Let Your Kids Divide and Conquer!
Do you remember asking your Dad for something when you were sure Mom would say no? Or how about buttering Mom up for the big ask when you didn’t stand a chance with Dad? This “selective questioning” is a rite of passage for every kid, but it’s also a destructive habit that can divide parents and causes unnecessary tension in a marriage.
Billy and I are hypersensitive to this “divide and conquer” technique and don’t ever want our children to think they can move to the driver seat of decision making. We work hard to recognize where our kids will most likely try to manipulate to gain their most favorable answer.
For instance, I tend to be the parent who hyper-manages use of electronics with our kids. Billy AND our son know that I manage screen time down to the minute, and I have a mental check list as to whether my son is “over” time or not. As a result, my son avoids asking me if it’s OK for him to use the DS/iPad/Wii; he goes to Dad. Billy knows how our boy loves a work-around, so when our son asks him about using an electronic, Billy is quick to ask, “What did your Mom say?” or “Why don’t you see what Mom thinks?”
In a similar fashion, I tend to let the kids roam the neighborhood with other kids without giving much thought as to whether they should be in “wind down” mode. Billy is much more likely to ask the kids to curl up on the couch and chill out in the afternoon. My daughter realizes this disparity and is more likely to ask me than Billy if she can leave the house. Now when she asks the question, I make her shop the idea with Billy. “Have you asked your Dad? Because I agree with whatever he tells you.”
Our goal in enforcing this process now is that we don’t want our kids to develop a habit of questioning and pushing their agenda until they receive the answer they want. We want them to learn how to take “no” for an answer. We also want them to know that Billy and I are, above all else, UNIFIED in our support of each other.
This doesn’t mean Billy and I come out of the starting gate with the same opinion, but we aren’t going to let the kids dictate how we respond to their requests. Instead we follow a simple decision process that looks like this:
1. Do we already have established rules on this question? (If so, the kid needs to explain why “today” the decision should be different.)
2. Have you asked the other parent this question? (If so, there will be no change in the answer.)
3. If this is a new topic, or a question one parent feels strongly about, the other parent will be consulted on the answer. (And the kids will NOT complain about waiting, otherwise the response is “no.”)
The result isn’t perfect decisions, far from it, but we make them together. When the kids understand this, their impulse to divide and conquer is tempered and ultimately that makes for a more peaceful home!
Did you ever try to divide your parents? Do your children do this to you?