Styles of Parenting

By Sharon Elwell

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    Ours were really different! But planning sessions got us together!

    Our first child was everything we had hoped for: a ray of human sunshine, blond and bright, restless as the small animals she soon grew to love. But she wasn’t home from the hospital two hours before we realized that rearing children is not an automatic, easy task. My husband and I had always assumed that the love and harmony between the two of us would, without effort, deepen and grow even sweeter through the presence of our beautiful daughter. But right away we found parenthood an enormous challenge.

    My husband and I are, I believe, unusually compatible. Our deepest convictions are completely shared, and so are the small preferences: we laugh at the same places in movies, decide to leave parties at the same time, order the same meal every time we go to a restaurant, generally vote for the same candidates, and we visualize the same dream house. And so we had expected to be loving, totally unified parents.

    When it came to baby care and discipline, however, that unity evaporated. Our daughter would watch, wide-eyed, as her parents demonstrated their ability to disagree. And I was teaching a Mother Education class in Relief Society!

    When one of the mothers in the class I was teaching bore testimony to the value of parent planning meetings, I couldn’t wait to discuss it with my husband. Our daughter was nearly two, and more and more decisions needed to be made about her care. We still could not agree happily on many issues. After our disagreements, we prayed, repented, apologized, and tried again, but each new incident could bring about a fresh disagreement. When I learned that some other women had faced the same problems and that planning meetings had worked for them, I decided to try the idea.

    As the parent having the most contact with the child, I watched for and listed current and upcoming problems so that we could bring them up in a father-mother discussion. The idea of a two-party meeting seemed a little silly to me at first, but keeping the list made me feel that I was at last doing something constructive. The problems seemed manageable when I saw them recorded in a businesslike list. The first list looked something like this:

    1. Squealing—how do we get her to stop?

    2. Tricycle—is she ready?

    3. Toilet training—make an issue or wait?

    4. Bottle—take it away or wait?

    5. Spanking—can’t we do without it?

    Of course, I had my own opinions on every one of those issues before I ever wrote them down. But two years of experience had taught me that it doesn’t do one parent any good to conscientiously follow what he or she believes to be the best course if the other parent is using an opposite approach. For instance, when the baby picked up the habit of squealing, I decided to try to extinguish the undesirable behavior by ignoring it. John, however, felt that sterner measures were required. So when she squealed, I ignored her and John scolded her. Obviously, we weren’t getting anywhere.

    Making the list was easy; finding the time to discuss the items was more difficult. We found quiet, unhurried, unmeetinglike moments—riding in the car was often a good time—and started. My husband was pleased that I was coming to him with these problems and was careful to answer fairly. His responses seemed to be based on righteous principles. In this noncrisis atmosphere we were quickly able to resolve difficulties that had been sore spots for weeks or even months. It is easier to decide what to do about a squealing child when squealing isn’t interrupting the conversation!

    That removal from the immediate problem gave us the time, the peaceful atmosphere, and the objectivity to remember that we had guidelines in the scriptures to help us make decisions as parents. However much we disagreed on methods, we shared the same goals for our child, and both of us wanted to please our Heavenly Father and each other in our service as parents. We felt so grateful and so close after our first meeting; we went home secure and relieved that we had an agreed-upon method of dealing with our squealing child.

    We decided early that no decisions should be made in front of our daughter. We discussed each matter in private and then gave her a mutually resolved decision—even if we had to go into another room for ten minutes before we could answer a simple question.

    We still occasionally get taken by surprise, losing tempers or even reprimanding one another in front of the child. But such incidents are rare. We are much closer now to being the parents we had hoped, planned, and committed ourselves to be. And the best part is the growing confidence we feel in ourselves and each other, knowing that we can meet future problems as they arise.

    Photography by Marilyn Erd

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    • Sharon Elwell, a homemaker, and mother of three, serves as Primary president in the Napa Third Ward, Napa California Stake.