Nothing can change a couple’s relationship like becoming a parent. You’ve gone from being “just the two of us” to being “a family”. It is at once the most exciting thing you’ve done and the most daunting task you’ll ever have.
When most couples first start considering the idea of children, they don’t immediately think of how they will parent their children or even discuss it beyond the basics. They just assume they’ll figure it out. The dynamics get even more complicated when parenting involves a blended family and parenting step-children.
The fact is, most people tend to parent in much the same way they were parented. This may or may not be compatible with your partner’s views on parenting. Different views can set the stage for clashes between parents that undermine each other’s parental authority and leave kids caught in the middle.
A marriage and family therapist can help you and your partner sort through those differences and find the parenting style that works for your family. What a lot of parents are surprised to find is that while their parenting approaches may be miles apart, their parenting goals are not.
So what can you expect from seeing a marriage and family therapist to deal with your parenting dilemmas? Your therapist will spend some time exploring your family’s unique dynamics and each of your views regarding parenting. Of course, you’ll talk about what’s not working but you’ll also talk about what is working and how you can build on those strengths.
There are a number of positive parenting strategies that your therapist may choose to introduce based on your family’s needs and the strengths each of you possess. You and your partner will learn how to parent together, as a team, to form a cohesive and consistent set of expectations for your children. Expect that you’ll have homework to try new strategies as you construct your parenting plan.
One thing that surprises a lot of parents is that the therapist may suggest one or more family sessions to include your children. These sessions are not to debate the new parenting strategy. These sessions are intended to provide support as you reinforce your role as parents, set expectations and to work through any concerns your children may have about the changes.
If you’re the parents and you’re in charge, you may be wondering why family sessions are needed. Because change is hard and for kids, change can be scary. Parenting may have been overly permissive or overly strict or inconsistent. All of a sudden, there are clear expectations, clear and consistent consequences and (yikes!), their parents are united. Allowing kids to voice their concerns and understand the changes goes a long way to reducing the fear.
Counseling for parenting issues doesn’t end with your new plan in hand. As you implement changes, you’ll probably get some push-back from your children. Don’t worry, that resistance is part of the change process but it can test the mettle of the strongest parents. Your therapist can provide support for you and your partner as you progress. Additional family sessions may also be recommended.
Parenting conflicts can divide couples and leave kids confused. A skilled marriage and family therapist can help you and your partner navigate your parenting journey in ways that are healthy and productive for you and for your children.