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Articles > When Helicopters and Drill Sergeants Raise Children

Question:  When one parent is a helicopter and the other is a drill sergeant , how can you help each other become consultants without correcting in front of the kids and possibly losing credibility? - Patty H. 

Dr. Cline's Answer: Thank you for attending a recent workshop where we discussed the importance of being a consultant parent rather than a drill seargent or helicopter parent- especially when dealing with health issues. We also explain these important differences on pages 113-121 of Parenting Children with Health Issues. Here, you will meet Tommy, a six-year-old with amblyopia (eyes not focusing together) and learn about how his creative parents used the consultant approach to motivate him to wear his eye patch per doctor's orders- no small feat.  Since your question is a common one, I have responded with a short article. Enjoy!     

        When Helicopters and Drill Sergeants Raise Children  by
Foster W. Cline, M.D.  

It is sometimes hard for couples to get their parenting act together when, in the first place, both actors in the drama choose each other because of their complimentary differences! Disagreements in front of the children naturally lead children to become manipulative and more difficult when both parents are together. When children manipulate around health issues then the situation can be downright dangerous. It is one thing to whine and refuse to get dressed on time. It is another when a child whines and refuses to complete a medical treatment.


If there are disagreements, parents might do well to remember that if they, themselves, should die, and the other raised the child alone, the child might likely turn out a lot like the person that they, themselves, thought was spiffy enough to marry in the first place!


Love and Logic teaches that parents can disagree about almost anything in front of the children except how to handle the children.  This assumes parents will resolve their disagreements (behind the scenes) and don't just leave the resolution hanging. Basic information on couple communication is given in Chapter 11 of Parenting Children with Health Issues.


Disagreements around how the children are handled may prove to be sticky wickets because personality factors come into play and when suggestions or criticisms are given by one partner, it may lead the other to feel his or her very personhood is threatened!


Trying to resolve differences in parenting styles during or just after one parent has been coping (or trying to cope) with a child is as satisfying as chewing gum with tinfoil! There must be separation between the act and when it is discussed.  There has to be an agreement on how to discuss discipline and response differences.  Wise couples also discuss the following underlying foundation issues before looking at parenting responses per se:


What are the character traits we wish our child to show?

What are our real expectations concerning self-care, whining, respect, chores, and medical treatment completion?

How many times, really, are we willing to request the same thing over and over to our child?

How many times are we willing to answer the same question? ie: “You may have the cookie after you get your shot.”

How many times, really, are we willing to ask for a particular chore to be done?


After couples reach agreement on expectations, then we can start to sort out the parental responses that will best promote this desired behavior.


The point is this: it does no good to argue on how to respond to a situation when parents are unsure of what they expect from the child or situation in the first place! Certainly it’s “nice” when parents note, “We both expect a responsible child.” But that has no more clarity, specificity and firmness than cotton candy. What are the parent’s expectations on observable, quantifiable behaviors that show respect? (How many minutes of whining; how many answers to the same question; how many reminders to begin treatment are we really willing to provide?)


There is a great resource base that parents can turn to when raising children. Other parents. And it is simple to choose which ones. Pick parents who have thoughtful teens. That’s it! Pure and simple. Don’t put those parents in the middle of a disagreement as if they should choose sides: “My husband and I are having a disagreement about…” But instead, mine them for pure gold information: “We want our kids to grow up like your Ricky. And we are wondering how you would have handled it if Ricky whined for half an hour about not getting his way in this situation …”


In a quiet moment, in a nice restaurant, when the problem is not occurring, wise parents work together to come to agreement about:


- Who will handle what issue?

- Who will handle an issue if it occurs when (with company, when both are together, etc.)?

- Who will handle what issue where: (at the table, at church, at the grandparents, etc.)?  


It is almost always helpful to listen to Love and Logic CDs in the car. Visit Love and Logic's website for a free, downloadable version of Funny Parenting Stories.  This information is funny, enjoyable, usable, and will make sense to almost anyone. Even children enjoy most of the Love and Logic information. You may even find them using it on you!


Sometimes differences in parenting styles are really manifestations of deeper personality issues. A mother who had problems with her own mother is liable to reflect those issues in the way she handles her daughter. A father who experienced a rejecting and demanding dad may respond in a similar manner to his son. In such cases, there is more to the issue than simply learning correct parenting techniques. A professional can help a parent work through these types of issues. Little in life is as enlightening and as exciting as coming to really know ourselves. 

Posted 5/08/07   

Foster W. Cline, MD


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