Recently I found myself perplexed over the complicated challenges of parenting a strong-willed teenager while not seeing eye-to-eye with the other half of my team on how to do so. The details are not important, but my frustration, worry, hurt and near-despair was both deep and palpable. I am very much a choose-your-battle kind of person, but this particular battle felt necessary. And I was losing on all fronts.

Then a good friend told me an interesting story:

There was once a boy who found himself locked in disagreement with his mother. At the time he knew he was right (this is one thing I do know: parents are not always right–often, but not always). To this day, the now-grown man knows he was right. In the midst of the battle, and as is sometimes necessary, the boy’s father stepped in. To the boy’s surprise and dismay, the father stood firmly beside the boy’s mother. Looking back now, as an adult, the boy could choose to harbor resentment toward his father, as he knew his father knew who was correct. But instead he recalls a most powerful lesson he learned about parenting that day. That more important than who was one what side, was that both parents stood together.

As I listened to the story I was once again filled with my own sense of rightness. Recalling how in my childhood home we were never allowed to sass or be disrespectful to my mother or we had to answer to my dad (often in a very physical way), I felt certain that my spouse should have my back.

Later, as I was driving home from a meet-up with some close friends, the lightbulb blinked on unmistakeably. An epiphany played smackdown with my pride.

The crux of the lesson wasn’t that the second parent stood by a parent who was in the right. It was that the other parent knowingly stood by his spouse even when he knew she was wrong.

Even as the bold truth of it hit me, I realized that I have a choice in where I choose to stand. And sometimes, even in the heat of a battle that feels necessary, there may be greater lessons to be taught than the most immediate.

Tell me about your struggles as a parent. Particularly for those of you with older children, how do you deal with the challenges inherent in parenting teens? Do you ever find yourself not seeing eye-to-eye with your spouse? How do you resolve those differences in your marriage? What lessons do you find more important than being right?

June 28, 2011


  1. Howard

    June 29, 2011

    Yes splitting can be a big problem it greatly increases drama by adding a Rescuer to the Persecutor Victim dynamics see Karpman Drama Triangle for how this works: This is why it is better for parents to stick together even when they are wrong. But as soon as they both know they are wrong they should reverse course.

  2. Paul

    June 29, 2011

    Great post. Parenting is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, if you ask me. Each of our seven children is unique, and that is as frustrating as can be to me! When I think I’ve just figured it out with kid A, then kid C brings in a whole new dynamic. No fair!

    For me, though, the realization that my children (especially teens) WILL make their own choices no matter what I want was a terrifying realization. It matters little what the family rules are, what “law” I laid down as a parent, what church standards were. What mattered was they would choose for themselves (just as they should).

    It took me many years into our marriage to learn this lesson, and my oldest children bore the brunt of teaching me this lesson; their younger siblings are the beneficiaries.

    Knowing they WILL choose for themselves makes me parent differently than my falsely believing if I do everything right as a parent the kids will toe the line.

  3. Tiffany W.

    June 29, 2011

    Dalene, I truly appreciated this post. But not from the perspective as a parent (though that great), but as a daughter. You’ve illuminated a struggle I’ve been having for the past year.I won’t go into the details as it veers off topic and doesn’t get to the questions you are asking. Thanks for the insights.

  4. ssj

    June 29, 2011

    I actually saw this a lot with my own parents. My mom can be a bit overbearing at times and often can build things up bigger than they are. However, my dad always stood by her side when we were arguing with her. I’m sure when they were alone they would discuss things more in depth but as a teenager, I always knew they were a team.

  5. dalene

    June 29, 2011

    Howard–Another good point that I very much appreciate having learned early: When you are wrong, it’s OK to reverse course.

    Paul–Thank you. And you bring up such a great point (and also lesson hard learned) about agency. I know it in my head, but when I’m most scared and worried I can’t help but think if I found a different way to say it or teach it or ‘came up’ with a more effective consequence to attach to a choice I could make them see clearly and somehow change my kids’ choices. That fallacy is reiterated when someone older and further down the road (anyone with grown children) tells me if I did things differently I would have a different outcome. Children will choose for themselves. I’ve already taught them. All I can do now is keep loving them.

    Tiffany W. You’re welcome (and thank you for your comment). I sincerely wish you well.

    ssj–Thank you for your sharing your perspective.

  6. Anon

    June 29, 2011

    I’m not sure I fully agree. My spouse deals with severe depression and when he’s in a low place, he often rages. Lately my teenage son has been the target of much of his disappointment, and I feel absolutely torn. Do I stand by my furious husband and let my son’s self-esteem be torn to bits or do I try to balance both of their needs: my husband’s need to be supported by his wife, and my son’s need to see his value clearly, not warped by his father’s depression?

  7. Jennifer

    June 29, 2011

    I love this post and I think it teaches very important lessons. But don’t you also think that it’s important for your kids to see you stick up for them on occasion? With two teens and one close behind, this has been an issue that I have been wondering about. Definatly you don’t want your children to feel that they can divide their parents, but on occasion I have found it helpful to “stick up for” my kids on issues that aren’t as important. I chose not to do this if it’s a situation that has already elevated into an argument, but I find that if I can step in early to point out that our child may have a point in what they are saying, it can keep things from turning into a battle. Just my two cents.

  8. dalene

    June 29, 2011

    Anon and Jennifer: I need to clarify. I am still very much a choose-your-battle kind of person. Yes you do stick up for your child when you need to and there are most definitely times to stand up as well as times to stand aside, or rather beside.

    My point is that I discovered I do have a choice, one I hope I will now make more wisely than before. And that, as I said,

    Sometimes, even in the heat of a battle that feels necessary, there may be greater lessons to be taught than the most immediate.”

    p.s. Anon. I am truly sorry about the situation in which you find yourself dealing with the effects of depression. I truly wish you and your family well.

  9. jenny

    June 29, 2011

    I love this post, and I love those kind of epiphanies–even when they are hard for me to acknowledge (paradigm-shifting ones…”ohhhhh. hmm.”)

    A much respected older couple in my ward growing up revealed this about their marriage and parenting when all of their children had grown and left the home:

    When one parent (parent 1) was communicating with a child, often the other parent (parent 2) would come upon the two talking. Parent 2 would listen for a bit and then perhaps parent 2 would stand closely by parent 1, placing a gentle hand on their back.

    The children interpreted this action as their parents totally united and supportive of one another.

    The parents revealed what this hand on the back really meant: “I completely disagree with what’s going on here, let’s go somewhere so WE can discuss this privately.”

    Kind of awesome I think. In theory. In reality, I try this model–and I am often too riled up (and indignantly right!) to acquiesce. He is much better at it than I am.

    I keep trying.

    Great post, thanks for sharing your epiphany.
    Best wishes with your strong-willed teen. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Nancy R.

    June 29, 2011

    Anon – my borderline-depressed mother would rage over small things and I hated that my dad would never intervene or later, when I wasn’t there, try to talk to her about boundaries. Her behavior in those moments destroyed trust and eventually, whole relationships. I’m all for parents sticking together, but when one parent is experiencing mental health difficulties, I think that changes things.

  11. Johnna

    June 29, 2011

    Standing up for the other parent when you know the other parent is out of line. Been there, done that, amen.

  12. m2theh

    June 29, 2011

    I think that when one parent is completely out of line the other parent needs to call them on it. I think it’s beneficial for children to see their parents work out issues.

    My husband says his parents would always go in another room to discuss anything they disagreed on, and when they came out it was always what his dad wanted. Not exactly an example of a balanced marriage, and it made him lose respect for both of his parents.

  13. Elizabeth

    June 29, 2011

    I have what is probably the exception to the rule, as some have mentioned above.
    My step-mother did many emotionally and physically abusive things that I can still recall with strong feelings to this day (two minor examples: dumping a full container of coleslaw on my head, taking scissors to my favorite skirt while I was wearing it ).
    Eventually I wore down my mother with my constant begging for her to take custody and left my father behind without looking back. I later learned they fought like crazy in private about what she was doing, but felt that a united front was what would show them she was a part of our family. It destroyed the relationship I had with my father–to all appearances he approved of everything she ever did to me. I went years without speaking to them, and our relationship has never been the same. She left him a few years ago and we’re all the better for it.

  14. michelle

    June 30, 2011

    I really like your point about the fact that we can make choices — whatever they are — deliberately. It’s all too easy to be acted upon rather than to act. Sometimes the right thing will be to stand by the spouse. But I think there are definitely times to engage in discussion and sort through together (including children) to find a solution. I think children need to see that parents sometimes disagree — and see how to deal with that. I also think they need to feel like their voice has value in the process of decision-making.

    To me, the council system is a really good model that I like to lean on a lot. When we use the family council system, often differing opinions are softened as everyone feels heard and the Spirit can work on us all – parents included.

  15. she-bop

    June 30, 2011

    Oh boy. You’re in the thick of it. Sounds like we need to talk. Good luck.

    Pray. and pray some more.

  16. Kellie

    June 30, 2011

    The challenge I’m currently eyeballing is that my eldest son is now taller than I am, before he turns 14, and everything that involves. Both sons have their own unique, frustrating, exhilarating and exhausting personalities, and I’m the only parent they have day in, day out. I’ve realised that sometimes the best thing I can say is “I have no idea.” Then hug them. Again. And again. Or send myself for a time out for everyone’s good.

  17. Sara

    June 30, 2011

    I actually loved that my parents were always united. My Mom recently commented that she wonders if they should have fought more in front of us to help us see that’s what couples do. I’m so glad they didn’t! I learned how to handle disagreements as I grew older and matured. I loved that I had a fairly peaceful home and always felt very secure in my parents love for each other.

    It’s funny how people preferred different things growing up. This makes me feel better as a parent. Either way could be right ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Paul

    June 30, 2011

    Hmmm. The only time I think we’re comfortable calling one another out is if we’ve already started down the road with the kids. It’s not unusual for my wife to say to me, I didn’t know you felt that way. I’ve already discuss this with Matilda, and we were leaning the other way. Then it’s up to me to back up my wife.

    I agree there is value for the children to see the parents disagree on some things, but those things should rarely be the things the kids are asking about. We have plenty of other things about which to demonstrate conflict resolution skills.

    Our ten year old reminds us regularly how she does NOT like seeing us disagree. (Our fourteen year old, on the other hand, probably loves to see us disagree….)

  19. Jennifer

    June 30, 2011

    Jenny, thank you so much, that is an amazing idea and I totally want to try it. Dalene, thank you for your clarification. I agree, that is an important lesson to learn, one that I have been working on. Just because you are right, doesn’t mean you need to continue in that path. You always have a choice of how to proceed. Thank you for your thoughts.

  20. Grandma Jo-Nan

    June 30, 2011

    I wish I read the original blog and the comments that followed it about twenty years ago when the teen years of raising children came upon me and my husband.
    My children were very strong-willed and were also very independent. I don’t know about the strong-willed, but I have only my self to blame for the independence. It was me who put their clothes in piles of a top, a bottom and a pair of matching socks and let them choose what they wanted to wear each day.
    But, oh how I wish I could have known what to do when their strong wills battled with mine and I didn’t feel of their Dad’s support for me. I remember standing in the corner of my kitchen and begging with my eyes for my husband’s help. Later, when I talked with him, he told me I would have to teach our children how to respect me, if I ever wanted their respect. Was he right?

  21. Carla Pitcher

    July 1, 2011

    I havent read past the first three lines of your post…and I had to speak…you wrote your own answer… It’s the word TEAM…

    I can picture the fragmenting of the family unit in the room…instead of unity. Unity good, fragmenting bad-or not?

    You wrote of trouble with a teen and the “other half of your team” wasn’t supporting you, right?

    What if we shift perspective… from rigid hierarchy with unified parents calling all the shots…

    to the image of a malleable and ever-moving hanging mobile…you know, the ones kids bring home from elementary school as art projects? Or the kind I put over my baby’s crib so he’d have something to look at? They move, and if we spin one piece, the whole family moves, because they are connected, right?

    When my kids are individuating and asserting their will over my will…I tend to tense up and push back…I’m not effective when I do it, but I catch myself faster now, than before!

    What if the family unit was “the team?” Go play baseball as a family. Rotate positions. Sometimes you pitch, sometimes you bat, sometimes they are running bases, sometimes you catch. And everyone else does too!

    Or make a mobile as a family, using pictures and favorite things for each person…and if your teen thinks it’s boring and wont participate-hang it in the middle of the kitchen so all can see how lop-sided and out of balance it is without your teen (or partner) hanging their in it’s place. All are needed- the whole team loses when one wont play. But we can cover each others positions from time to time, and the game goes on!

    What a caring, deliberate, dedicated and wise mom you are! How much you seek unity in your family! Please save this and send back to me to remind me what I said…I may need to read this again myself…like…tomorrow!

    Much love to you and yours, Coach!

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