When couples, together or separated, seek help with a child or a parenting issue, it is often driven more by one parent than the other. While not always the case, this is frequently true. Not only do they not share similar parenting playbooks, they usually have very different perspectives on their children.
Denials, Deceptions and Protecting Big Ego’s
Most parents are coming to seek help because a child or teen is struggling. Failing grades, disrespect, acting out, non-compliance, and so forth. The threat to the child’s future is quite obvious in most situations, as their behavior and attitude are thwarting their achievement and their success.
Yet, at times, there is one parent who will make comments such as the following:
- “Well, he’s not really that bad. I don’t have a problem with him.”
- “I was like that when I was his age, and I turned out okay.”
- “Oh of course. I’m already doing that.” “And that.” “And that.”
- “His mother exaggerates everything. He only smokes pot now and then.”
- “I’ve got a good handle on things. Her father doesn’t do anything.”
- “His mother is the cause of this. You gotta fix what happens over there.”
- “I don’t know what you can offer. Nothing works. I have read all the books.”
- “It doesn’t matter. They will figure it out.”
In many of these situations, the child is spiraling out of control. How can one parent cling to such denials? How can we hold onto such gigantic deceptions?
It’s the ‘big ego’ that needs protection! The big ego can’t be challenged, can’t accept responsibility, and certainly can’t handle the truth that ‘my choices are hurting my child’s future…perhaps destroying their chances of success.’
Instead, the big ego denies, deflects, and defends. It’s as if the ship is sinking miles from shore, and yet the captain is discussing what’s for dinner tonight.
The big ego is a significant challenge to getting on the same page, and parenting with a united game plan. To fight is futile. So what can you do?
Working with the Big Ego?
Unfortunately, the big ego cannot often be tamed. It will always be right. It will always know more, even more than the experts. You might usually be wrong. But if your child is struggling, it is useful to find a strategy to get on the same page. (And put your own ego aside.) Here are a few thoughts.
1. Ask for Help.
It is always useful to ask for help, and most of us enjoy helping. This includes the big ego. And if the other parent believes all is perfect with their approach, ask for help in getting there.
But here’s the key: Get the details. Ask lots of questions. Take good notes. Find out what happens when, and what exactly is said. In seeking the details, much will be revealed about what is really happening or not happening. And don’t stop yet…
2. Seek Understanding the Highest Intention Behind Their Parenting Choices.
This is critical. When you are collecting details, ask about the intention behind each parenting choice. If they can’t answer or don’t know, ask them to imagine an intention behind the parenting choice, and what it might be.
When you do this with sincerity, you begin to help both of you see each choice as either serving an intention for the parent or serving an intention for the child. Some of these are obviously higher intentions than others, and some are more easily examined. For example, one intention might be to make sure your son has friends, and therefore you let him stay up all night playing Fortnight because ‘everyone is doing it.’
Also, open up your own choices to this question. It’s only fair. What is your intention behind each choice? The other parent may help you to see this more clearly, as you might help them. Then ask…
3. “Where Do You Think is this Taking Our Child?”
While the intentions may be worthy, the real question is about the outcome. Like the intention above to help your son maintain friends, it appears worthy. Yet, the habit that unfolds is problematic. An addiction unfolds, time away from academics and sports, as well as an eroding attitude.
It is critical to gently examine this part of the formula, to see where these parenting choices (and perhaps a reasonable intention) are actually taking your child. Without this, you can remain blind to the trajectory that is unfolding.
This third step is about opening your eyes. Not only for the big ego but also for you and your choices as a parent. It’s certainly fair game to explore both of your approaches to parenting and own up to many aspects that are not working for you as well.
The key is simply owning it. If the ship is sinking, acknowledge it. And be clear about your role. One final question…
4. “Would You Be Willing To Test Another Approach?”
If there is no acknowledgment of a sinking ship or even a leaking ship, then you can still ask this question. Ask it as a favor to you. Be humble.
And remember to emphasize that this is a test. Because, if you have the right game plan, it may take a couple of weeks before you begin to see serious improvement. You don’t need to test it for months, just a few weeks.
If you proceed through these steps, you can often harness the big ego to work with you, rather than fighting you. Just make sure you have a clear game plan. Be certain that the test is a worthy test. So do your homework, and have clarity about what you would want to test.
Also, be open to learning. The big ego will have some points to make, and some are of value. See your own defensiveness, if present, and be open to all the same questions and the same transformation.
Intentions do matter. Yet, the results or outcomes often point us to where we need to make a change. One over-valued intention can hide where a habit pattern is destroying a child’s future.