It is no surprise to me how common it is for parents to have different beliefs, considering that marriage is a union of two people from different backgrounds. Each of us is the product of the environments in which we were raised and the life experiences we have had. I am often surprised when parents actually do agree on so many things.
I am not talking about different parenting styles. I am referring to parents who have different topical opinions and beliefs, sometimes really big ones. Before a couple has children, disagreeing on an issue or two isn’t a deal breaker. It’s one of the things that you just accept about your mate, part of the package. But once kids are on the scene, that no big deal often gets big. Now it matters! Parents insist on “their way or the high way,” as if teams are being formed or it is a contest to be won. Acquiescence is experienced as a loss.
Whether it is about the food a child should (or shouldn’t) eat, language usage, or even politics, parental parity on everything is a rarity. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Learning to tolerate difference is a lesson critical to growing up.
When my children were 5 years old (triplets, remember?), there was a lot of “I hate…” filling the air. Five year olds have strong feelings. My husband was raised in an environment where the word hate was not used, not ever. It was too strong a word. And so it was genuinely upsetting to him every time he heard one of the kids exclaiming that he hated something or someone. But it didn’t faze me. I had grown up hating and loving; strong feelings abounded in my family. But I dared not say shut up to anyone. That was strictly forbidden. The solution for our own family seemed quite logical at the time. I explained to the kids that their dad had a really hard time when he heard the word “hate.” I even explained why. And we talked about other words they could use in their dad’s presence. I further said that the hate word wasn’t a problem for me. They could use it around me. I shared that my problem expression was “shut up,” as they well knew already. They understood and accepted the reality of this difference in their parents. Likely, it was a result of the message having been delivered respectfully and not as a reprimand.
Some issues between parents are easier to tackle than others; some parents are more accepting than others; some people’s temperaments get in their own way, like those who are exceedingly strong willed. Children need to be exposed to people who model making room for difference. Living with parents who agree to disagree in a non-confrontational way and without using put-downs, lays the foundation for the child’s acceptance of people’s differing choices, ideas, and plans. In addition, it saves the child from feeling he has to choose between one parent or the other.
Throughout their lives children are going to encounter people with whom they disagree, situations that veer from their plan. How much easier this reality of life will be if they have seen it in action at home.