339. The United Front

Adults sometimes disagree with each other about how to raise children. If they don’t have the same children, their disagreements don’t have to cause problems. Or if they’re good at communicating, they can usually work it out. It’s
a good idea for two adults to come to some understanding before starting to raise children together, but you can’t think of everything. And so, sometimes, you argue with each other. That’s okay. Really, it is.
Some adults feel as if they have to present a united front to their children. They don’t let the kids see that they disagree about how children should be treated. When my own children were growing up, my wife and I usually discussed policy privately. It’s not that we necessarily thought our disagreements would traumatize the children; we just thought they’d try to participate in the process, making it more complicated. After all, they were certainly going to be affected by the outcome, so why not lobby for their interests? But we often wanted them to keep their two cents in their piggy banks. So we often had our discussions/arguments while the children were asleep or away. That’s one way to approach it – the united front. But there’s another way: adults actually do have disagreements about policy, and if children don’t see those disagreements, they may grow up to enter relationships with unrealistic expectations. Maybe they’ll think they’re not supposed to have arguments. But they are. Even in the best of relationships, there are healthy arguments. So maybe the complications that surface when children enter into the policy discussions serve a purpose.
And maybe there’s another purpose for letting children see and hear the disagreements: they can learn not only that disagreements exist, but also what to do about them. If they witness effective handling of controversy, they can learn from it, and maybe apply it to their own relationships right away. This assumes, of course, that the adults are handling it effectively. If not, adults often don’t want children to be involved, and I guess that’s a good idea.
Often when I write about an issue, I have already made up my mind about where I stand. But I haven’t made up my mind on this one. Probably, the right answer, if there is one, depends on the nature and substance of the disagreements the adults are having; children should witness some arguments and not others. Maybe there are some they shouldn’t have to just witness; they should get involved.
I could have waited to write this article until I was all done arguing with myself about what I thought. But the controversy is real, and I thought it would be dishonest to pretend I had the whole thing figured out. So what do you think?

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