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When You Disagree about a Child's Request

Parenting disagreements can be some of the toughest. When your child makes a request and one of you wants to say yes, but the other thinks yes would be a bad idea, you really need a Third Alternative.

You need one because you are in danger of planting your feet and holding your ground to protect your child at the possible expense of your marriage. Concern for a child motivates immediate action, which can take a wrong turn and become disrespect for your mate and corrosive anger over nothing more than an opinion.

Let's say your teenage daughter wants to attend a church-sponsored weekend away from home. One of you finds this an awful idea because it's not your church and you don't know the chaperones, while the other believes it would be a great step toward developing the independence she will soon need to go off to college without the two of you. How do you find a Third Alternative to No and Yes?

Jump the Net

You start by jumping the net. You agree to stop defending a First or Second Alternative to free yourself to find that Third Alternative that both of you will value as much or more.

Write Your Specs

Then you write the specs: - Allow her to take responsibility for her own choices in a strange environment but with adult supervision, so she builds her confidence and ability to handle choices. - Reward her recent school successes with something she really wants to do. - Avoid subjecting her to religious proselytizing. - Avoid encouraging her to choose a religion different from the rest of her family. - Avoid sexual predators, unsupervised opportunities for sex with someone her own age, reckless behavior of other teens, or lack of proper attention to any injuries.

Brainstorm!

And now you brainstorm ways to achieve all of this: - Meet and spend time with one or more of the chaperones. - Ask someone you trust to volunteer as a chaperone. - Discuss the differences between the two religions with her before and after she goes. - Rehearse some of the situations that might come up with your daughter in advance. - Contract with a taxi company near the retreat location to drive her home, no questions asked, at any hour, if she calls them. - Check with her to see if there are non-religious trips coming up that she might enjoy as much and with which you two would feel more comfortable. - Check with other parents at work for well-supervised trips for teens that she might enjoy as much. - Talk to your own church about organizing a similar retreat. - Offer her another reward that requires independent choices but does not require overnight travel, such as a pet, a fashion store gift card, or a party budget.

Keep referring back to your specs, and rattle off anything that might possibly help achieve them. If you like an idea, add to it. If you don't like an idea, revise the part you don't like and keep the rest. If you run out of ideas, ask your most creative or wisest friends to help add to the list.

When you get to an idea or a set of ideas that works for you, let your spouse know, but don't get attached yet. If your spouse does not like them, it might be that there is one more thing to add to your specs that was at first not apparent. Add it and get back to brainstorming.

When you find your Third Alternative, both of you will like it as much as you liked your flat-out Yes or No. You get your way and you get to give your spouse what he or she wants, plus a heap of respect and admiration.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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