Clarify. If there is an instruction that keeps coming up in The art of being co-parents. Support yourself to raise your children, it is the need to communicate, even if it means arguing (with respect). Since for sixty years, parental roles have not been assigned in a traditional way, building or recomposing a family requires perpetual adjustments, explains Nicolas Favez, professor of psychology at the University of Geneva and author of this very precise book.
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Are these permanent adjustments tiring? Maybe, but that’s the price to pay for the collaboration to work. Because it does not matter whether the family is straight, gay, single parent or adoptive, assures the specialist. The essential thing, in terms of education, is the relational quality of the people who care for, stimulate, secure and structure the child. “The baby is a sponge. Observations show that from 3 or 4 months, he is attentive to the dialogue between his parents and that he adjusts his behavior accordingly, ”explains the author. Young children acquire what psychologists call “multi-person capacity” at a very young age and grasp not only the actions, but also the emotions of those around them. Hence the need for clarity on all floors and at all ages.
The mother does not have a monopoly on the link
In this rich essay, Nicolas Favez operates several adjustments. He first of all recalls that the mother does not have a monopoly on the secure link. Parents are both “first rank attachment figures” from birth, even if the father is sometimes more teasing in the interaction by not following closely the baby’s dance with his children. twittering and facial expressions.
Moreover, equality intervenes even on the biological level, continues the psychologist. Supporters of maternal primacy have long relied on the manifestation, in the mother, of spikes in oxytocin, a hormone involved in childbirth, breastfeeding, loving behavior and empathy. Once the researchers started testing fathers, they realized that oxytocin was also present in them at a high level during the same period around childbirth! In other words, “this hormone is activated by contact with babies, regardless of the gender of the parent,” says the author.
Different families, no deficit
The second clarification concerns “different” families, whether they are recomposed, single-parent, homoparental or adoptive. Here too the research results are unanimous, guarantees Nicolas Favez. Children who grow up in these environments show no emotional or educational deficit, nor “any sexual orientation bias” for homoparental families.
With two reservations, however: economic difficulties linked to single parenthood can be stressful and have repercussions on the child’s ability to discipline himself. Moreover, in adopting families, the child often manifests an “increased vulnerability at the time of the construction of his identity, when he legitimately questions himself about his filiation and his belonging”. A confident dialogue and external support make it possible to negotiate these stages, reassures the psychologist.
Too little or too much
Let us return to this notion of parental debate and conflict, necessary for the structuring of the child. At one end of the spectrum, some couples suppress any argument or even discussion so as not to disrupt the development of their offspring. This is a mistake, warns the author, because the child perceives the unspoken and the tensions while being deprived of explanations.
At the other end of the spectrum, couples are constantly tearing each other apart and failing to provide a safe environment for the child. Distraught, the latter “then does prevention by anticipating what could anger his parents – he will, for example, buy what has been forgotten by one so that the other is not angry – or he is withdraws to the point of becoming inhibited in any social relationship ”. These arguments are destructive, notes the author, because they target the person and not the facts, generalize excessively and lock the other in a degrading identity.
In the middle (and ideally!), There is constructive controversy. That is to say, an exchange in which parents state their points of disparity while maintaining listening and respect. Thus placed in front of a “theater of intentions” in which each parent, in addition to their concrete choices, speaks of “their mental states”, the child acquires “the theory of mind”, that is to say “The ability to understand the perspective of others”, defines Nicolas Favez.
This know-how in the dispute is all the more important as there are no couples without disputes. The three subjects that annoy the most? “Household chores, money and sex life”, answer the specialists in marriage counseling. Who are struck by one aspect: more than the root of the problem, it is often the “communication errors” that plague. An “I think you forgot to do the dishes” is much better than a “I can never count on you” stigmatizing. An “I see that you are upset” is much less toxic than a “you are so angry” …
The base? Support from the other parent
To avoid slipping into settling scores, the author proposes an unstoppable ingredient: support for the other, including, above all, when the parents are divorced and remain a parental couple. Like humor, another ingredient in de-dramatization, support helps avoid the “sedimentation effect” of negative emotions. Because, most of the time, the alleged facts are only a derivative of deeper frustrations. It’s a bit sad, but no couple escapes “relational accounting”, observes the author. “Everyone keeps the accounts between debits and credits, between what each gives and what each receives.” However, more than the objective balance of tasks, it is the valuation or validation of what the other is doing that matters.
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Regarding domestic chores,s work. In this regard, Nicolas Favez delivers two eloquent observations. On the one hand, the fathers are too optimistic in their plan to share the follow-up of the child. “Studies have shown that new fathers, full of genuine enthusiasm around the time of pregnancy, can then be discouraged by the magnitude of the task. If changing diapers or preparing baby bottles for a few days does not pose a problem, doing it regularly, for a long time, day and night, exceeds their endurance, ”reports the psychologist.
On the other hand, because they are still socially seen as the guarantors of education, many mothers are turning into guardians or gatekeepers. That is to say that, while eager to delegate, they control and sanction the way in which the father takes care of the child and the home. An ambivalence which tests them and of course inhibits the taking of fatherly initiatives.
Hence the need to exchange, a lot, to reinvent oneself and get out of social expectations, insists the author. We must talk about organizational problems, such as the choice of extracurricular activities for the child, or the political convictions and moral values of each. There are no small subjects, all play a role in the family dynamic. Because each bug between parents “has repercussions on the relationship between parent and child”, even if it has long been assumed that “the mother-child relationship was impermeable to the relationship with the father”. This indirect influence, called the “second-order effect”, conditions parent-child ties to such an extent that sometimes the home no longer appears to the child as a peaceful place when nothing, on the surface, seems disturbed.
We must not only “debate, dialogue even if it means opposing”, concludes Nicolas Favez, but also “recognize the importance of concrete support (doing things) and emotional (congratulate, thank the other). It is therefore not only a question of being a parent, but also, above all, of being a co-parent, which is fundamental for the good of the child. ”