One child playing one parent off against another is often the cause of stress in a relationship. This is perfectly normal and completely the fault of the parent. A simple level of respect is required from each parent to the other.

In this culture, there is a strong prominence of focus on the mother to the exclusion, often, of the father. This is made worse in areas where the father is seen as nothing more than a sperm donor and of no more value than as a life support system for the sperm delivery method.

It must be remembered that the father is equally important in the rearing of his offspring as the mother is. One need only look at a "well balanced" home where mummy and daddy get on well and then compare with a home where mum and dad shout at each other and dad is absent a lot.

There must be a clear framework that acknowledges the right of the father to be consulted.

At one time, it was considered (some what arbitrarily) that father was head of the house. This head-ship was abused and, over time, lost by fathers. It is not a god-given right to dominate and rule. That would just be foolish. The head of the house (arbitrarily the father in times gone past) functions in union with mother who is his equal. The authority of the father is delegated with trust to the mother and the authority of the mother is delegated with trust to the father.

With this union, each parent may act with the complete authority of both but unless this acceptance of authority delegated is acknowledged publicly, it is useless. The authority rests with the parent unless they attempt to hold on to it.

How does a parent acknowledged publicly the authority delegated and why?

A mother acknowledges the authority of her partner by deferring clearly to him and he to her.

How else can a mother hope to rebuild the value of the father as a parent unless a united front is presented? Further - how can she breath life into the fathers once active desire to be involved with his children unless she recognises his value and the validity of his contribution? If fathers are so alienated from the role of parent by the assumptions of those who are "there to help the mother" how can he be expected to be a good dad later? It's no good us bemoaning the lack of bond between fathers and their teenage children when for the first 16 years of the child's life they have been considered a necessary evil, there only to bring in cash.

It is time to recognise the value of the active participation of fathers in the bringing up of children.

Let us suppose that sometime after tea the children ask mother if they can have ice cream. The mother has complete authority to decide an answer and act upon it. But here is an opportunity to recognise that there are two parents in the house.

Mother says: "What does you father have to say?"

Now let it be said that the uncaring environment where she says, "ask dad" and he says "ask mum" only serves to frustrate the children and show to them that neither parent can be bothered.

In restoring the father, the mother may even have to go with the children to where the father is and ask for the children "daddy, can we have some ice cream? Mummy says to ask you."

This says to the father "I trust you and your views are important to me" and it says to the children "Your father and I work together - we are a team"

The father can then choose to decide or to return the choice to mother with his blessing.

"Not this time" or "later" must not be used as a weak alternative to "no" - say what you mean and be ready to stick to it.

"Yes, if mummy says it is ok" or "What does mummy think" also re-enforces mothers authority and shows unity as mother and father come to a decision together.

or

"No, I feel it is too close to bed-time"

If the father's choice is no then he must stop what he is doing, at least temporarily, and go to the mother and say "I'd rather not, for this reason -"

Mother can offer counter arguments "It doesn't seem to be any harm... have you considered -"

In this way the parents reinforce the authority of each other despite a difference of opinion, furthermore they are teaching the children how to have peaceful disagreements and how to resolve them.

"I have told you before... Not before bed-time":

If this is the case then the father must go to the mother and say, "they have asked this {give time} and I said 'no' that time, I think we should be consistent."

The mother then has a responsibility to deal with this potential playing of one against another by declaring the choice of the father to the children. This is not because the father can not speak to the children indeed a good daddy may have already said no directly to the children but by echoing the choice of the father the mother shows that she and he stand together. It is not important that they agree on the issue, it is only vital that each supports and upholds the authority of the other.

Under no circumstances should a parent ever contradict the direct authority of the other, nor should one mock the other. When mother tells off father she places him at the same level as the child. When this happens how then can the child be expected to have respect for the father?

"Only if..." if father chooses to add a condition then the father needs to communicate the condition to mother (although as the years progress you may find that your children will communicate it themselves). The mother must act within the bounds of the decision or risk showing herself to be a liar by her pretence to her children.

This unity can further be enhanced by the parents finding time to compare views on things that affect the children. The mother should not necessarily expect the father to be particularly forthcoming if this is a change after a lifetime of false assumptions and mistreatment. For every exclusion of the father, it will take five to rebuild the detriment caused to the authority of the father.


End Notes

Including the father only works if the father is ultamatly willing to be included. Willingness is not always the case sometimes through neglect and sometimes for other more complex and personal reasons.
momomom Has kindly pointed out that "In breastfeeding classes, we teach that fathers give their children the first experience of love that is not connected to food. We also teach them how to be involved in a positive way that doesn't disrupt the lactation. Many parenting skills and tasks do not involve feeding the infant. Hopefully, if mommy isn't the only "expert" daddy will not be disinfranchised."

Traditionally, father was the head of the household, but by the rules of manliness, no male would ever get much involved with the task of raising a young child any more than he would involve himself in ordering the kitchen - that was women's work and women's realm, back then. For a big strong man to meddle in such matters would be the equivalent of sexual perversion or profound effeminacy, and was strictly taboo. Only the most general influence of the male over such matters would be condoned by society. It's terrific that we've now altered some of the ways in which women were discriminated against in the past, but it's not helpful to go on to infantalize our view of women in history: they did have some power all of their own, even then.

Nowadays, parental decision making is more complex and diffuse, and there's usually no "third vote" of society or the church to decide matters in case two parents disagree. What to do?

Well, for a start, modern psychologists strongly believe that hiding differences in parental opinions from children is harmful, and messes up their thinking; that it's healthier for the child to know who thinks what - the child obviously shouldn't be in the position of being the deciding vote, of course, just that the child should be aware what was behind decisions and how they were made, rather than have life be an unpredictable series of surprises. There's no sense raising a child to think that adults never make hard decisions in life, they just follow simple hard and fast rules. Now that we have cell phones, it's a lot harder play one parent off against another in a non-neurotic relationship, anyway.

Also, one of the problems with relying on father's unchallengeable authority and an appearance of authority is that while there are a lot of ways parents can influence the behavior of their children, mystique just isn't the most efficient of these - parenting is too intimate a relationship for an impression of perfection on the part of the parent to survive long. Plus the law now justly limits how much your children can be made to fear your hand, so the more lasting mystique of extreme violence can't be employed as it was only a generation or two ago (very fortunately.)

But don't lose hope, fathers. Nature has given the male an unfair advantage in child rearing. Some tones of the male voice, curiously, are more powerful with children than any formal authority or the agreement of both parents. Namely the deepest tones. Without displaying meanness, obvious threat, sarcasm, anger, bitterness, or extra volume, just a little deep rumble of chest resonance and seriousness in a grown male's voice compels real obedience in children - sometimes to Mom's annoyance: "So how come they didn't listen to me when I said exactly that the first six times!" This seems to be built into humans, and most other related species as well - even birds growl at each other, just at a much higher pitch, scientists have found, and respond to such growls.

Because modern humans live in rectangular rooms which resonate at the lower frequencies human voices can create, males especially learn over time to filter these deep tones out of their own voices and produce a higher, less masculine, and less natural voice. With every generation, this higher tone of voice becomes more pronounced because outdoor work and conversation become rarer. But just put those tones resolutely back into your voice next time you pronounce that it really is bedtime, and you may be surprised at the quick results. This may take some practice, and it doesn't hurt to put a hand on your chest while you practice, to feel for the resonance. Practicing out of doors or in very large rooms may help, since the same ugly resonance won't be there. (This is all true for women as well, but to a much lesser extent, given their higher natural pitch.) Remember, you aren't trying to frighten the bejesus out of the poor wee creatures, just to communicate your seriousness. They'll respond.

It should be noted that parents in neurotic relationships often play out their own dramas through their children, using them as scapegoats or allies. Neither role is appropriate - but such problems between parents should be resolved separately, as they really don't have anything to do with questions of child-rearing. Using children as pawns in an argument they don't have to be part of is exceptionally selfish behavior, and can be quite destructive for the kids. But the problem in such cases is not authority or agreement or mystique - the problem is that two parents are fighting deviously with each other instead of honestly.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.