Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Deconstructing the United Front

Photo by JRGCreations on Flickr
In my post on consistency, I mentioned that I also hold rather heretical views on the tenet of "the united front".  Like consistency, it is assumed to be common sense and rarely controversial.  I have some strong disagreements with the whole concept, though.

First, the whole point is, as Alfie Kohn points out, a united front against the child.  It is part of the whole adversarial mind set that pits the parents against the children in war.  The theory goes that if the child senses any weakness, he will attack you at your most vulnerable level of disagreement, so you are bound to an alliance with your partner in order to create a show of strength.   As I have stated before, our family is on the same team.  We aren't at war with our kids, and we are not afraid  of evil motives on their part.

Secondly, it is inauthentic.  The united front supposes that you and your partner actually disagree to some extent, but are backing each other up from a sense of obligation and/or fear.  Do I really want to teach my children to ignore their own conscience and go along with others to prove their relationship?  Is that the model of conflict resolution that I want them to follow?

If you are punishing your children, then it might seem more fair to be consistent.  However, kids are smart and adaptable.  Our kidlets know that Dad lets them watch some shows on TV that I wouldn't, and that I have a higher tolerance for messes than he does.  That hasn't caused any problems for us.  Whichever parent is more actively taking care of them at that moment decides the boundaries.

Once you move past the united front, there is an entirely different view of problem-solving and collaboration that opens up.  You are forced to confront your true needs and reasons behind a direction.  When those are clear, then you work together as a united front--parents and children--against the problem, with a large opening to see out and view fresh solutions.

What if one partner refuses to do that?  Then you learn how to have healthy boundaries and grow from that point.  If the parents' relationship is so fragile that disagreement will cause damage, then I suspect the damage is already done.  Clinging to a facade won't help either of you, and won't model a healthy relationship for your children.  Get counseling--alone, if your partner refuses--and learn how to be healthy yourself, and see how your relationship can become healthy from there.

The goal is a healthy family where disagreement is a springboard to finding solutions, not where it is feared as hurtful for anyone.  Learning how to navigate conflict and find respectful ways to disagree and work through the issues is an incredibly important life skill.  It must be acquired through practice.  Tear down any false united front that causes you to be inauthentic and build one together with the whole family where every member is united in the endeavor to meet each person's needs.

Photo by recursion_see_recursion on Flickr

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