Why there’s no such thing as friendly fire

A recent YouTube advert made use of the hackneyed Battle of the Sexes cliché to sell a detergent. Dad said he was better than Mom, and Mom insisted that she was far superior, while the kids (a nice, round pigeon pair) smiled vapidly on. Just a commercial, I know, but the concept irked me. I guess that’s because I’ve found that there’s no room in a healthy relationship for the kind of competition that has a winner and a loser.

To be clear, I’m not talking about light-hearted contests. My husband and I have always used sudden death Rock, Paper, Scissors to instantly resolve minor disputes. Neither of us wants to change Finn’s poop nappy? The fists go up and we count it down. The loser accepts his or her fate instantly and the winner can’t be a jerk about it. The same goes for dishes, dustbins, cockroaches, designated driving, etc. It’s made our lives so much easier!

When I talk about competition, I mean the invasive idea that one partner is superior to the other. I believe this kind of ethos is destructive in general, but particularly so when it comes to parenting. In fact, I think that when this is the prevailing mindset, everyone loses.

Why it has to be win-win

Picture the scenario: Dad’s changing a nappy, but kiddo is screaming and writhing, so Dad’s getting frustrated. Mom hears and comes over. She swoops in, gives the tot something to play with, and takes over while telling Dad where he went wrong, and why he really should do it her way. (Full disclaimer, I’m the Mom here… it’s me.)

The little one is now fresh and clean, but Mom could have dealt better with the situation. Dad is left feeling irritated and belittled, like his efforts weren’t appreciated, and kiddo saw that his parents are a divided front.

But so what? The thing is, even though I’m much faster at nappy changing, it’s good for my hubby to (ahem) get his hands dirty. And he does so willingly. Not only does it involve him in the everyday childrearing, it’s also good for our son to see that the father’s role includes the messy jobs as well. As strange as it sounds, it’s also a special form of Dude Bonding (totally a thing).

In my own life, I find that things run smoother when hubby and I support and encourage, rather than compete and crow. Marital harmony aside, there are other reasons to embrace our differing parenting styles.

Kids learn from our actions, not our words

Anyone with children knows that you can talk about patience and sharing all day long, but the one time you slam a door in anger, or drop an f-bomb, seems to be the only time they were listening. There’s a huge sense of responsibility attached to this realisation, because we know that our behaviour will be mirrored by our children.

If you consider the knock-on affects of this in their future relationships, then you know the importance of considering the way we behave as parents. I personally want my boy to grow up enjoying healthy relationships that nurture mutual respect and consideration. The only thing I can do to promote this is to demonstrate it in our home.

Kids pick up that parents can be manipulated

When children realise they can play Mom and Dad against each other for their own nefarious gains, even innocuous competition between parents can become a real issue. Some couples find that this kind of friction is seriously destructive to their relationship.

What’s more, it teaches children how to be devious in order to get what they want. Learning about manipulation is a life lesson we all get, but the home should be a place where such behaviour is discouraged, and replaced with honest communication.

The cure, according to the Super Granny, is to ensure a united front. Mom and Dad need to be on the same page when it comes to discipline and routines. This way our kids discover that no really does mean no – such a vital lesson for so many reasons!

Lack of consistency lays weak foundations

In her book, A Brand-New Child in 5 Easy Steps, Andalene Salvesen (aka Super Granny) maintains that when our children are still very small, we need to implement secure boundaries. Obviously done with love and discerning, this sets the scene for when they’re older, and have different discipline needs.

When we neglect to stay firm on important things (like not sitting on the stove because you could burn your bum, or not flushing mommy’s cell phone down the toilet because COME ON!) our kids lose out on the security that thoughtful boundary setting provides.

In fact, when we’re lax on things while they’re still little, we don’t prepare the relationship’s trust for future years, when issues become bigger, and the consequences more serious. Not burning your but is easy, but carefully considering what pictures you post, or allowing other people to post, on social media is a little trickier.

It’s important to nurture a relationship in which our daughter or son trusts our reasons for implementing boundaries, so they can rely on our consistency in the face of “grey areas”. When we do this, our kids grow up knowing that we are their safe space when they have bigger issues to deal with. It also helps them to develop their own moral framework for good decision-making when we’re not around.

Hostile competitiveness breeds insecure children

This is perhaps the most obviously destructive effect of the whole Mom vs. Dad phenomenon. It might not be the same for you, but when my hubby and I are fractious with each other in front of our boy, he lets us know that he’s stressed out.

In any relationship there are times when you argue, or sometimes work through an issue that’s bigger than an “I’m sorry”. I guess the trick is to not let the issues in your marriage become evident in your parenting. Regardless of who’s winning the war on Placing the Laundry INSIDE the Laundry Bin, your little one should still see that Mom and Dad respect and love each other, and work together.

Different strokes for different folks

Beyond all the general common sense, is the understanding that people are different, so obviously we have differing strengths and weaknesses. While I secretly believe I’m neater and more efficient than my husband, I openly acknowledge that he’s so much better in times of crisis – especially if there’s blood involved!

When Finn takes a knock (which he does, often, because he’s part Tasmanian Devil) I’m happy to let The Doctor commandeer the kitchen counter in a swathe of antiseptic ointments and plaster peelings.

At the end of the day, it’s important to use your personal differences to work for your family dynamic, not against it. After all, you’re both on the same team:

Team Awesome Kiddo With The World At Their Feet!

Jen Verwoerd is a full-time mama and part-time writer. She sometimes writes on her blog, and can often be seen in parks around Cape Town, explaining to her son why we don’t poke strange dogs in the eye. Currently pregnant with her second child, she can’t even think about food without making a trip to the refrigerator, you know, just to make sure everything’s ok in there.

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