"How Can You Even Think That?" - What to Do As Parents When You Disagree About Social Distancing
Updated: Jul 4
When parents have different positions on what they consider safe and appropriate for where their kids should venture and what is safe for them to do during COVID-19 restrictions it's easy for the conflict to escalate. The best way to work through these differences is to sit down and talk through each of your perspectives when both of you are feeling calm, centered, and able to give the conversation your full attention. If both parents come into the discussion with the understanding that both of you want what is best for your kids and with a commitment to curiosity, seeking to fully understand each other's perspective, rather than "getting" your partner to see why they are "wrong" or to change their perspective, the conversation can be far less intense and much more productive.
Try to start with a clean slate. If you have had conversations about this topic in the past that have escalated into arguments or contentious interactions apologize for any behavior that you know does not reflect you at your best. Don't blame your partner or justify your actions, even if you feel like they have behaved in ways that were more hurtful, out of bounds, or inappropriate than you did. Make sure that your apology focuses on what you said or did, don't approach the apology with the intention or expectation that your partner will reciprocate, or that they will even accept your apology. If your partner is not warm and receptive to what you have to say hold off on continuing the conversation about this topic. Let them have some time to reflect and to absorb your apology.
Take turns sharing each of your perspectives. When it's your turn to share describe your experience from an "I" standpoint. Don't label your partner's position or parenting style. Don't tell your partner how you think they feel about things or what you "know" they believe. Don't extrapolate and bring up other issues or parenting decisions, even if you think they are relevant. Share your thoughts, your feelings, and why you see things the way you do. If you can convey the emotional meaning of your experience to your partner they are much more likely to try to see things from your perspective. If you have uncertainty or ambivalence about what is "safe' and "unsafe" for your kids, share that. Often partners both harbor a lot of these mixed feelings, but because they believe that the other partner is fully entrenched in the opposite viewpoint they are reluctant to acknowledge any doubt or uncertainty in their own stance out of fear that their partner will then use that information to take an even more set or extreme position. But in reality, if you express your own doubt and ambivalence your partner will feel safe to do the same, and you may discover that you in more much more agreement than you realized.
When it's your partner's turn to share their perspective focus on listening and trying to see things from their point of view. Don't defend your position or argue with what they have to say. Ask questions from a place of curiosity. If things start to feel heated think about how you would handle the conversation if they were a client and you needed to find a solution that would work both for them and for you.
Once you've both shared your perspectives if things start to feel intense, or if you feel like you are still not able to develop a solution that works for both of you, table the discussion with a commitment to come back together to talk again at a specific day and time. Honor that commitment and if when you revisit the topic you still feel too far apart to find a satisfactory resolution go through the exercise of sharing perspectives again, but this time advocate from each other's position. For example, if you believe that the kids need to stay inside to be safe and healthy describe why you believe that outdoor time is safe and important for the kids to have during this time. If you have trouble doing this imagine that you are back in high school and your teacher has assigned you to argue the position in a debate, and your grade depends on it. You or your partner may find that articulating a new position gives you better insight into the opposite view.
If you can't come to a shared agreement moving forward, or if the disagreement about this topic is impacting your overall relationship, consider getting help to work through this issue. Most couples have times when they need help from a qualified professional and the stress of COVID-19 has left many of us feeling more on edge and entrenched in our positions in our goal to keep our families safe. Couples counselors, relationship and parenting coaches offer virtual sessions and may be able to help you to work through this stuck place and get a better understanding of each other and how to move through these types of conflicts in the future.
If you’d like my relationship ideas and resources delivered directly to your inbox
The relationship you wish for is possible, but sometimes skills and tools aren’t enough to get you there. Most of us have times in our lives when we need help to rebuild the passion and connection in our relationships. If this is where you are - reach out. I can help.