Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Err... isn't he your son too?

I'm sure you've come across this situation: a child is behaving badly and the mother says to the father, "Tell your son to behave" or "Can you get your son to sit down?". Or it could be father reporting to mother, "Your daughter was very naughty in school today" or "Your daughter refused to eat her lunch."

The phrase "your son" or "your daughter" is usually said in a tone that conveys annoyance, displeasure, disappointment, blame and/or frustration. Not nice things to inflict on your spouse.

Richard and I use the phrase too, but we do it in a completely opposite way. We only use it in positive situations and always as a good-natured joke. Like when Ryan is being especially cheeky or adorable or impressive, we might say, "Your son is winking his eye at the girls! He must have learned it from you!" or "Your son was really good in swimming class today. How about a hug for him?" We have never used the phrase "your son" in a negative manner. We've never had to discuss it, we just never did it.

In this post, I want to talk about using, or rather NOT using this phrase in negative situations, such as the situations in my opening paragraph. It always intrigues me. After all, the son/daughter belongs to both the father and the mother ... right? Both parents have an equal part to play in parenting their child ... don't they?

Obviously, I feel strongly against it.

Using "your son" on your spouse is essentially distancing yourself from the problems or issues at hand. You're saying that you're an outsider to the problem or the issue. Sometimes, you're even trying to blame your spouse while telling him/her that you had no hand in it.

But all that can never be true.

Both parents have a role to play in guiding the child - both before and after the event. If there is an instance of misbehaviour, it is a culmination of what has happened before - lack of good parenting, lack of guidance, etc - and both parents should be accountable and responsible. In other words, if there is blame to be assigned, both parents are equally blameworthy. And when I say "parent your child", I don't mean taking care of the child's physical needs. I'm not referring to caretaking or childminding. I'm talking about parenting - guiding the child, showing the child right from wrong, instilling good values and manners, cultivating good habits, etc.

And moving forward, if something needs to be done to resolve the situation, then both parents are equally responsible to do so. There is no "your son" or "your daughter". It must always be "our son" or "our daughter". Always.

It doesn't matter if you think that you were not the cause of the actual situation, it doesn't matter if you were not even there when it started, it doesn't matter if you don't know what is going on in that moment. What matters is that you are there now. What matters is that you are just as much your child's parent as your spouse is. So the question is, what are YOU going to do?

You have a choice to parent or not to parent. And if you choose not to parent, if you want to tell your spouse that it's "his son" (and not "our son") and therefore that your spouse should do the parenting without you, well, I think it's reasonable to say that there's something seriously wrong there.

Once you have a child, you are a parent. You can't choose when you want to be a parent. You can't choose to be a parent only in good times and distance yourself in bad times. Your child is your child everyday, every minute of every day. And you are your child's parent everyday, every minute of every day. If the child is being naughty, he/she is still your child. If the child has done something he/she shouldn't have, he/she is still your child. Step up and deal with it.

Using the phrase "your son" or "your daughter" says a lot about the type of parent and the type of person you are. Longtime readers of this blog will know that one thing I hope my children will learn is that it is our choices and our actions that make us who we are. And that I hope my children will be pro-active in helping whenever help is needed, in pitching in whenever they can make a difference, and in taking responsibility when they ought to. This parenting situation is, at its core, a basic example of that philosophy.

Trying to distance yourself from a problem which you cannot hope to help with is one thing.
Trying to distance yourself from a problem which you can help with is bad.
Trying to distance yourself from that problem and pushing the responsibility onto someone else to solve that problem is worse.
Trying to distance yourself from that problem and pushing the responsibility onto someone else to solve that problem when that problem involves your own child is the absolute worst.

I know what some people will say - something like, "Oh, it's no big deal, it's just something I say. It doesn't mean anything."

It means a lot.

The consequence of using this phrase is twofold. First, and obviously, it creates a rift between husband and wife. It is rude and disrespectful to speak to your spouse like that. In a way, the person saying it is using emotional blackmail and guilt to get the other person to resolve the matter - "it's not my problem, it's yours, so you deal with it." That speaks volumes about your approach to not only parenting, but your marriage as well. I know that if Richard ever said that to me, I would be worried about our spousal relationship and I would start to doubt the relationship between him and our son. I might even be pissed off. After all, it would be a sign that he is not interested in our son, he blames me for our son's misbehaviour, and he doesn't want any part of it.

Second, it has an intense effect on the child. Think about what you are demonstrating to your child, what you are teaching your child. Imagine hearing your mother say that to your father. Wouldn't you think that your mother is not interested in you, she blames your father for whatever you did, and she doesn't want any part of it? Wouldn't you wonder why she doesn't seem to care about what's going on with you, why she is shoving the burden of dealing with you to your father? And wouldn't you be sad to hear your parents speak to each other in such an unpleasant tone?

If it's "no big deal" to you, then it should be "no big deal" for you to stop doing it. And if you feel that you must keep doing it, then it's safe to say that you have a huge problem, in which case, it certainly would be a big deal.

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