This week’s Dear Family Whisperer column, “How To Not Be the “Bad Guy,” hit home. Times have changed–men are more involved in childcare today. To his credit, my husband loved kids and was more hands-on than many fathers in the 1970s. He took our children to the playground on Saturday mornings and, once, even held down the fort for nearly three weeks when I went to India. But for the most part I was “the heavy”–the bad cop– who decided what was good for the kids. Not surprisingly, when we became a “family apart,” still co-parenting but in separate households, our different standards and problem-solving approaches magnified.
I’ve since peeked into many other families’ lives and have come to understand that the push-me-pull-you between parents–married or divorced–can be better understood with “family think.” Every family is an “ecosystem” comprised of the individuals (and what each brings to the table), their relationships, and their context–the situations and people they have to deal with. Whatever one member does or experiences affects everyone else. If Parent A allows junk food and late bedtimes, and is laissez faire about discipline, Parent B often feels compelled to take up the slack.
When I apply family think to my actions and reactions–and see my own behavior as part of this bigger picture–I have a better chance of changing me. Ironically, it took a divorce for me to finally accept who my husband was and that no amount of explaining, cajoling, or criticizing would change him. I try to carry that lesson with me in all my relationships, and with some people, and on some days, I’m better at it than others.
Bottom line: We can’t change anyone’s behavior but our own. And if we don’t want to be “the heavy,” we have to stop acting like one!
In my weekly Huffington Post advice column, “Dear Family Whisperer,” I apply “family think” to a range of modern family issues. Whenever an issue touches me personally, or I have further thoughts about it, I’ll post my reflections here. If you want to submit a question, email DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com.