My wife and I argue about how to manage our 13 year-old daughter. My wife is very liberal while I insist on reasonable limits. My wife doesn’t seem to appreciate that it’s a dangerous world out there. She gets angry and accuses me of being like her father who was very strict. How do we resolve this?
Most couples are going to face differences of opinion about how to bring up the children. Some couples disagree when the children are babies and others later in the child’s development. It all depends how important the issue is to the parents and whether they think it is worth taking a stand.
Why are you both taking a stand now? You each think it’s because the child really matters to you. But that isn’t true; the child has always mattered to you.
You are taking a stand because this particular issue has personal relevance to each of you. You may not know it, but you have your own agendas and this has little to do with the child.
Parents make the best decisions for their children when their own agendas are not involved in the decision. This means the best parents are those that have thoroughly dealt with their own emotional issues. This includes healing any childhood hurts and closely examining the parenting example set by your own parents.
Your wife rebelled against her upbringing and the attitude of her father while you have probably accepted the approach of your parents.
Your wife had a strict father whom she has never forgiven. She wanted more freedom than she was allowed. Now she wants to relive her youth through your daughter. On this issue, she is thinking like a teenager. Typically teenagers think they are invulnerable and can’t wait to experience as much as they can. Until your wife has worked through the grief of her own adolescence, she will make decisions distorted by her own experience.
You, on the other hand, are full of fear. You are afraid that your daughter will be exploited or damaged in some way. You are like your wife’s father who was strict. Parents who are strict are driven by fear. This is your own fear although you probably picked it up from your parents. You think you only want to protect your daughter but, if you look closely, you will see you are really protecting yourself. You are the one who couldn’t cope if anything happened to her. You don’t want to be a negligent father. Examine your own motives closely. Don’t be driven by fear. Release it. Make decisions based on the maturity of the child and what she can handle.
Children need to be guided on what is and is not appropriate behaviour. Then they need to be trusted. If they betray the trust invested in them, they must be made accountable. This means setting specific time frames and rules as well as the consequences, such as being temporally grounded, if they don’t comply.
As children grow, parents need to gradually allow more freedom. If necessary, use trial and error to work out what each individual child can actually handle.