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A Lasting Relationship

Sarah Chana Radcliffe

Pick your battles to preserve your long-term relationship with your children

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Much as it can be gratifying, amusing, and joyous at times, childrearing can be equally exhausting, nerve-wracking, and difficult. Some of this depends on the inborn nature of the child, some on the nature of the parent, and some on the skill of the parent. A parent with limited skill, for instance, may find raising an average child to be overwhelming. However, even a highly skilled parent will usually find it hard to raise a truly challenging youngster.

A great deal of the difficulty in parenting occurs in “uncooperative moments” — those times when a child won’t do what the parent asks of him or her. This can be a simple moment like the one that takes place at bedtime: The parent asks the child to get ready for bed and the child won’t.

Uncooperative moments also occur over the larger issues in life. For example, a parent asks a child to act in accordance with halachah and/or the standards of the home, or to refrain from engaging in dangerous or illegal activities, and the child refuses to do so.

Some parents act as if all uncooperative moments are of the same order of importance, responding with their most intense reactions to each. Others prefer not to sweat the small stuff, reserving their big weapons for the bigger issues. Either way, the majority of parents tend to be most provoked when their kids fail to cooperate.


Moving in Opposite Directions

During these confrontational times, both parent and child can feel upset, uncared for, misunderstood, and even hated. Moving in opposite directions on the issue at hand, they also move in opposite directions from each other.

In the moment, the child doesn’t like the parent who doesn’t do what he or she wants and the parent similarly isn’t enthralled with the uncooperative child. How will this parent and child end up liking each other enough to maintain their relationship once the child has grown up? The answer hinges on one important question: How many times a day do parent and child feel as though they are on opposite sides of the fence?


Seeing Eye-to-Eye

Friendship flourishes between agreeable people — those who agree on many subjects. This agreeable quality also determines who we will marry. Those who see eye-to-eye are happy to live a lifetime together, whereas those who differ on the minutiae and/or significant issues tend to part ways before or, heaven forbid, during marriage.

Friendship happens or doesn’t happen according to the same rules even when the parties are family members. Siblings who agree with each other tend to remain close for a lifetime. Spouses find it easier to be good friends with their agreeable partners. Parents and children who remain close for a lifetime tend to have many points of agreement and mutual appreciation.

As children are growing up, however, there are many possible points of disagreement in each day: Parent and child might disagree on what the child should eat, what the child should wear, what the child should do or say at any given moment. They might even disagree about what the child should think. The child has his opinion about all these things and the parent has his/hers.

A few daily disagreements may not override a strong, positive, agreeable relationship, but too many can. Indeed, if too many disagreements happen over the course of twenty developmental years, they can pose a serious risk to the relationship later on in life. It is essential, therefore, that parents reduce the overall number of disagreements that occur between themselves and their children.


Concentrate on the Biggies

Although children can be made to obey (not always, but often), they cannot be made to agree. Therefore, it is the parents who — through their careful selection of important issues — will reduce the number of disagreements.

Parents must pick their battles in order to preserve their relationship with their child. Adhering carefully to the 80-20 rule, they will ignore small incidents of less-than-ideal behavior, concentrating their negative attention instead on the bigger ones. And when disagreements must occur, parents will take care to manage them with sensitivity and respect for the child’s feelings.

Reduce conflict, reduce criticism, and reduce negativity is a recipe for successful lifelong parent-child relationships. Adhering to it helps empower a parent’s educational efforts. It also helps to ensure that the parent and the adult child will enjoy each other’s company for decades to come. 

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