How to raise children is an ongoing issue for most parents, both in theory and practice. Everyone brings their own beliefs, styles, life experiences, and cultural influences into the mix. In the beginning of the relationship, few couples discuss parenting from a practical standpoint. They may share their own experiences of being children and say what they loved or hated about that time. They may say things like "I will never treat my child that way," or "I will never do to my child what my mother/father did to me!" Less often do we hear "I love that my father/mother taught me this" or "I am so grateful my parents showed their love in this way."
During pregnancy, parents-to-be should discuss names, schools, hopes, and dreams. They may discuss whether or not to use corporal punishment, but the daily interventions for as-yet-unknown situations are not explored until they are in the middle of them. And that is how the problems begin. If the parents are unable to find ways to discuss, compromise, and agree, then there is a shut-down... and everyone loses.
I see couples every day and one of the first things we work on is getting out of the "I'm right and you're wrong" style of thinking that stems from using what I call the worst of all bad words: should. "Should" is an external controller; the message originally comes from family, religion, culture, or some other external source. We are not born with it. As children, though, we do internalize a lot of shoulds. "Should" makes things black and white, right or wrong, and is used to exert power and control in a relationship.
For example, I might say to my husband "You should work out every day." For him, this leads to either guilt if he doesn't work out or resentment if he does. He may also feel angry that I'm telling him what to do without considering his feelings. And who says? Who says he should work out every day?
Should can also lead to personal guilt and resentment, as in "I should work out every day." Again, who says? Working out is not a concrete edict in life, it is a personal desire — either for the joy of exercise or for the benefits.
Instead of saying should, replace it with "want" or "would like". For example: "I would like you to work out every day." or "I want to work out every day." This takes personal ownership of the desire and leaves room for discussion or negotiation. It also removes the guilt and resentment. Moreover, when someone tells you that you should do something, simply reply "So you would like me to…." It will equalize the relationship and open up the topic for discussion.
It works the same in parenting. Instead of bringing a should into how to raise a child, try saying want or would like and then have a discussion. This creates a safe space for expressing feelings and beliefs, sharing ideas, and ultimately making decisions that are in the best interest of the child —your child.
Now, don't you wish our government could do the same? Make decisions for the best interest of the country, not stubbornly dig in on should? Further food for thought.
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