Relationships aren’t always easy, and when they also involve children it’s important to work together, even if your ideas on child-rearing are different. Today’s post has been written by David B. Younger, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and trained couples therapist and researcher, as well as the man behind the site, Love After Kids.
It’s easy for parenting styles and the corresponding roles we adopt to become frozen and stuck so that movement and balance are sacrificed at the altar of certainty and predictability.
- Are you sick of always being the bad guy with your kids while your partner is their best friend?
- Do you feel stuck in your dynamic with your partner?
If they remain unaddressed, rigid parenting roles can have serious repercussions in our relationships with our children and with our partners. It can suck the life out of relationships, paving the way for distance and resentment.
It’s common to be drawn to qualities in our partners that are complementary to our own. For example, as an introvert, I was drawn to my wife’s outgoing nature. She had so many friends when I met her, I remember being deeply concerned when we started dating that she’d never have time for me.
We are opposites in most ways, actually. I’m disciplined and can focus for hours and she buzzes around like a bee. I love dark and heavy movies and she’s all about the Rom-Coms. Our core values though are quite similar. We are both fiercely loyal and devoted to our kids.
The qualities that bind can also be crazy making. While difference is the spice of relationships, it can also inadvertently create polarization, which leads to being stuck in specific roles. This is true for parenting roles as it is for relationship roles.
Difference becomes problematic when rigidity sets in. The ideal when it comes to parenting (if there are two partners involved) is that both partners can play different roles at different times.
The reality is that partners often implicitly take on different roles and stay stuck in them. This can have a huge impact on the relationship between parent and child as well as between partners.
It can feel like a luxury to address something like this when you’re knee deep in dirty diapers, sleep deprived and overworked, but the more that gets swept under the rug…
A classic example of parental role-lock is the good cop-bad cop dynamic, where one parent takes on the role of the strict enforcer and the other takes on the role of the pushover.
The more polarized the roles become, the more both partners end up feeling the need to compensate for what is missing in the other’s extremes. The strict partner will blame the pushover for his/her need to be so strict and the pushover will blame the strict one for his/her need to be so permissive.
This is problematic in that it creates distance between partners and it limits the range of the relationship each parent can have with their children.
It’s not easy to break out of these entrenched patterns. The first step is to realize that there is something that needs to be addressed. You cannot change what you don’t see. Recognizing that there is a problem is critical.
The next step is to analyze the issue and co-create a narrative. Continuing with the good cop-bad cop example:
- What was the dynamic when you were growing up?
- Was there a similar good cop-bad cop dynamic with your parents?
- Can you remember how that felt for you?
- How did it impact your relationship with each of them?
- How do you feel about your current situation?
- When did it start?
- What would you like to see happen?
Finally, you both have to take responsibility for working on the issue. It’s not about assigning blame. The more you can work as a team, the easier it will be.
- Are there some tangible things you can do to practice unlocking the roles?
- Do you want to come up with a secret code word that you and your partner can use when you find yourselves getting sucked into the role-lock?
Be patient with yourselves and each other. Like any other habit, it won’t be easy to let go of just because you are aware of it and want to change. Check in with each other on a regular basis. Ask how it’s going and if there’s anything you can be doing to better support each other.
David B. Younger, Ph.D is the creator of www.LoveAfterKids.com, for couples that have grown apart since having kids. He is a clinical psychologist and couple therapist and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 11 year-old son, 2 year-old daughter and 4 year-old toy poodle.