Parenting Conflict? Make Sure Your Kid Wins

father and daughter playing video games

When my husband and I hear a song on the radio and can't remember the artist, he's the first one online looking up the answer, letting me know that he's the one who got it right. Me, I'm usually content to wait out any disagreements, preferring to let him discover later on just how right I was. Competitive or noncompetitive, what's good is that, when either of us is wrong, we typically just shrug and make a joke. Not having to win is a pretty good quality when one is part of a couple, especially when that couple has to parent together and, by the way, also wants to stay in love. We've disagreed plenty over the years about child-rearing issues—and still do. Yet we usually manage to be sure that it's the kids who win in the end.

When our eldest son began sleeping in a bed, I would read a book with him, indulge in some snuggling, give him a hug and switch off the light. And he was happy with this. But when Frank had bedtime duty, which was three or four nights a week, he tucked the tyke in so tight I wondered if the child could move. Bad move, I said and, sure enough, it took only a few weeks until my son insisted I tuck him in, too, or else fetch Dad, the champion tucker-inner. When the toddler began appearing at our bedside at 1 or 4 a.m., pleading for us to tuck him back in, I mostly refused, figuring that Frank had started this, and so could deal with it. Thus began a cycle of nocturnal re-tucks. Occasionally, Frank groaned about it but, secretly, I think he liked that there was one nurturing thing he'd initiated, did better than me and could continue.

Now the little boy is a six-foot-tall teenager who certainly doesn't need tucking in. But he still invites his dad into his room just before he nods off, and toddler tuck-ins have morphed into teenage-father talks. Score one for Frank. But really, it's the boy who's won.

Our youngest son, now 12, is a sometime sleep-walker, a habit he first displayed at the age of 3, during a bout with a high fever. Frank refused to believe it was real sleep walking, insisting the child was just having a bad dream. He thought it would pass once the fever fell. It didn't. Intuitively, I knew the pattern was there to stay, so I sprang into action. I began jerry-rigging ways that would alarm us when he was up—hanging bells from the kids' doorknob, leaving our bedroom door wide open and a light on in the hall and, finally, against my husband's protests, unpacking the baby monitor from the attic and secreting it behind some books in the boy's bedroom.

Frank thought I was daft, but that was easy for him to say when he routinely slept through the child's meanderings, and I was the one guiding him back to bed at 3 a.m., a task that got more challenging as he gained height and heft. Since the monitor went live, we now both hear when our son rouses and wanders, and Frank can no longer deny that it's real.

I guess I won that one but, again, I think the kid comes out ahead in the end.