The father looked out the window and became alarmed as he saw his 10-year-old son playing with other neighborhood children without his facemask on.
He went outside to talk to his son and chastise him for not wearing a mask. Before the father was able to get into the scolding, his son said, "Mom said it was fine to not wear a mask as long as we are outside and stay six feet away."
The father did not have an adequate reply and mumbled, "We will see about that!" before heading back inside to talk with his wife.
A constant challenge for parents is to be on the same page regarding family rules and discipline. Children are all too adept at finding the cracks in a united parenting front. This is even truer in the middle of a pandemic where everyone is in close quarters and there is a lack of clear guidance on what to do.
It can feel overwhelming for parents, but they do have the tools and skills to handle this situation -- as they have had for all the challenges that come along with raising children.
Too often parenting decisions are made in the moment with parents reacting to situations. Decisions on parenting are always better when both parents have a calm period to discuss what needs to be done. This is often during that time between when the children are put to bed and the parents go to sleep.
Parents are reluctant to give up that time discussing parenting disagreements as it whittles away precious downtime. A way around this is to limit the time parenting issues are discussed to 15 minutes or so and then be able to go back to watching Hulu or Netflix.
Before discussing the issue, parents often need to talk through the emotions each is experiencing. The pandemic has brought out several deep-seated fears for parents and these need to be acknowledged before a decision can be made on new rules for the children.
Validating each partner's feelings is key to making parenting feel collaborative and not combative.
Once each parent's emotions have been addressed, discussion of parenting issues can start. While arriving at a consensus is ideal, parents do not have to agree on everything. It is OK to have different opinions though parents still need to present a united front when discussing the rules to their children. This sends the message to children that there is no getting around the rules by playing one parent off the other.
Family rules and discipline are a moving target, particularly in the current pandemic. Sometimes situations come up where parents have to make a decision in the moment. When this occurs, a parent should keep note of what happened and check in with the other parent later on.
It is good for parents to have a check-in time at least once per week to make sure both are on the same page going forward.
Parenting is always a challenge and it is made even more so by current events.
The key is to make sure communication stays open and both parents appreciate the perspectives of the other. This will lead to a united front regarding family rules and a better experience for the whole family.
Dan Florell, Ph.D., is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).