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What Do Polarized Politics and Parenting Have In Common?

What do hot political topics and emotional parenting issues have in common?   Politicians seem to move either further to the right or left when their opponent takes a strong position on an area that triggers significant emotion.  The two political parties “dig in” and defend their positions with very little room for cooperation, compromise, and compassion for the opposing side.  During a presidential election year the polarization intensifies, deepening the rift between political parties and impeding bipartisanship.  Forming relationships across party lines or “reaching across the aisle,”  although often beneficial, seems out of reach. The same holds true for parenting.  In my practice, parenting styles and approaches can cause bitter dissension among couples.  They often become polarized with each party vehemently defending their position and justifying their choices, much like seasoned politicians.  For example, when one parent’s style is strict while the other’s style is lenient, both individuals increase their intensity in an effort to “win the other parent over” and balance out the couple.  Picture a seesaw. When one person is on the end and the other in the middle it is unbalanced. The natural tendency is for the person in the middle to balance out the seesaw by moving to the other side.  The problem with this approach is that the child quickly learns which parent will respond favorably and splits the couple.  The extreme approach for parenting is never effective regardless of which end of the extreme you fall on.  The child can also be confused by their parents’ differing styles.  Ultimately divergent parenting creates conflict and undermines unity and teamwork.  Over time the schism grows and the connection crumbles.  The couple starts operating as separate entities with their own set of rules and chaos ensues.  In parenting and politics polarization can limit effectiveness, consume an inordinate amount of time/energy, and create turmoil for everyone.  Next week I will discuss possible solutions.

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