Journal Entry

Thursday, May 4, 2006

HOWTO Not Undermine Each Other In Front Of The Kids

Update: I neglected to mention that this is, obviously, an expansion pack for the well-known collectible card game, "Frantic: The Parenting"...

If you'll pardon a few things, dear readers -- a perhaps overly firm and hortatory tone, sweeping generalizations from my own experience, references to "your kids" when you might not have any -- I have a handy HOWTO to offer you. This might be most useful if you are me, or, failing that, if you are raising small children with some kind of partner and collaborator. Caveat lector.


I don't think it's so bad to fight in front of your kids. Whether your fighting style is WASPish reticence, Californian I-feel-when-you-because, or Mediterannean shouts and door-slammings, as long as you don't lose sight of basic mutual love and respect, as long as you try to fight towards and not against each other, you are probably teaching useful skills; and you are at least being real. It's a fine line; I find that if I try to be totally sweet and in solidarity with Esther all the time in front of our younguns, even when I'm angry, it only makes the anger linger longer.

But I think there are two sorts of fights you don't really want to have in front of your kids. One is the fight where you are too cranky, upset, or hurt to fight responsibly; I'll leave it to you, readers, to determine your own limits here. The other is a fight about the kids themselves.

Parents fight about childrearing in front of kids a lot; it's hard not to. The kids are always underfoot, and the raising of them so important -- it's hard to wait for a nap or a babysitter to address your concerns. I too, dear reader, was often in this benighted condition, before I discovered this handy HOWTO. Even though you know it dilutes and debases your shared authority, even though you know it can make the kids deeply uneasy, even though, indeed, it's just plain rude (you wouldn't fight about your mutual adult friend Fred in front of Fred, and the kids have at least as much claim upon your courtesy), it's hard not to roll your eyes at a piece of overprotectiveness, to stick up sharply for the little one when the other parent is having their own tantrum -- or contrariwise, to jump in when murder is being gotten away with. And sometimes, indeed, it is problematic to say nothing at all -- sometimes intercession, or a different perspective, or a reminder, is important when Dearest Childcare Collaborator is, say, locked into a poorly chosen struggle. The problem is that weighing in verbally usually does more harm than good.

We keep these cards in the kitchen drawer and the glove compartment of the car. You'll notice they are mostly negative; they're the things you *don't* want to say aloud. If you strive to present a united front, parenting in collaboration is a little like improv theater -- if you are opening your mouth to say "No, you can't have another slice", and sweetie gets "yes" out first, you need to be able to follow up "No --" with " -- problem." The cards, though, mean you have a second channel of communication.

There are times, of course, when a freewheeling family debate is perfectly appropriate; there are other times when sweetie is handling things and you're well advised stay out of it entirely. In between these times, though, when you are trying and failing to button your intrusive lip, here's hoping the marvelous Parenting Backchannel Cards preserve the peace of your familial encampment.

  • Please watch out for:

    CAVING IN

    I think you should hold the line

  • Please watch out for:

    A DISAPPROVING TONE

    You're being very hard on the kids

  • Please watch out for:

    AN UNFRIENDLY OR CRANKY TONE

    with me

  • Please watch out for:

    UNNECESSARY DRAMA

    It erodes parental authority

  • Please watch out for:

    DISTRACTING

    We'll be late

  • Please watch out for:

    UNDERMINING

    I'm handling this one

  • Hey

    SORRY

    About that thing before

  • Please watch out for:

    CAVING IN

    I think you should hold the line

  • Please watch out for:

    A DISAPPROVING TONE

    You're being very hard on the kids

  • Please watch out for:

    AN UNFRIENDLY OR CRANKY TONE

    with me

  • Please watch out for:

    UNNECESSARY DRAMA

    It erodes parental authority

  • Please watch out for:

    DISTRACTING

    We'll be late

  • Please watch out for:

    UNDERMINING

    I'm handling this one

  • Hey

    SORRY

    About that thing before

(Now that Aviva has broken our sophisticated encryption mechanism (that is, learned to read), I don't know how much longer this will work; unless, out of sheer politeness, she refrains from reading the notes we pass in class.)

Anyway, dear readers, let me know how it goes (and also let me know how this post displays on your browser of choice; I am dipping my toe in the Pool of Fancy CSS).

Posted by benrosen at May 4, 2006 01:17 AM | Up to blog
Comments

Is the duplication of some cards intentional? (I imagine having to draw a limited number of cards blindly off the top of the deck and be choosy about which ones you play...)

Posted by: David Moles at May 4, 2006 02:27 AM

Yeah, I thought it looked skimpy with just one each.

Hmm, your card rules give me an idea...

(updates entry)

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at May 4, 2006 11:37 AM

Perfect. These exact messages are so commonly needed in our household that we have bypassed the card system -- in fact, any form of verbal communication -- and now rely on Significant Glances to convey their assorted meanings. Having been together for over a dozen years, we can get across "Please watch out for AN UNFRIENDLY OR CRANKY TONE with me" in the flicker of an eyelid, and acknowledgement of same ("It's a fair cop") with a fractional tilt of the head. We've found, however, that "Hey SORRY About that thing before" is still best said aloud.

Posted by: Karen at May 9, 2006 08:06 AM

I really like these cards. Being as I generally am the person on the other side of Karen's significant glances, I will vouch for their efficiency in the hands of a competent user (her). I'm especially a fan of the fair cop one.

That said, this unspoken communication is inherently imprecise and sometimes errors can amplify as one of us wordlessly replies to what the other silently suggested with a tilt of one eyebrow, until naught is left but an immense vague possibility spectrum.

I think being able to occasionally curtail such a blossoming range of interpretations with one of these exact, no-nonsense cards would be very helpful.

PS. Sorry about this morning.

Posted by: Zell at May 9, 2006 10:45 AM

Okay, print out Ben's cards and we'll give 'em a go. There are times when I think you're reminding me to ease up on the unnecessary drama when in fact you're warning me about caving in. And it can cause problems when a quirk of the mouth is answered with a flaring of the nostrils leading to a raised eyebrow until all that's left of our co-parenting skills is a collection of spasmodic twitches.

Posted by: Karen at May 9, 2006 12:28 PM

I should point out that, indeed, "Hey SORRY about that thing before" is usually best said aloud -- it's the kind of thing you WANT your kids to hear you say.

The exception is when saying it aloud would tend to call attention back to something you don't want attention called to. If, for instance, the thing you're saying sorry about was an altercation about the kids -- or a piece of inappropriate caving in, or whatever -- the card allows you to restore good humor all around on the parental level, while leaving said can of worms unopened.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at May 9, 2006 12:29 PM

Report in so we can Ever Improve the Design of the Parenting Backchannel Cards Interparental Discord Alleviation Technology!

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at May 9, 2006 12:34 PM
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