Parenting & Negotiation

Parenting is a very long series of negotiations. If you have feelings about negotiating (‘it’s too hard’, ‘people are too mean to negotiate with’, ‘I never win’, ‘what does winning even look like for me?’, ‘I shouldn’t have to negotiate; I’m the adult!’, etc.) that you are not prepared to understand/question/heal, then you will have a rough go of it in the parenting arena.

At the beginning after 12 hours of labour you feel like you’ve been run over by a train and your only desire is to sleep for 2 days (or maybe that’s just me?), but your baby makes it perfectly clear that he needs your awake attention. So this is where it starts. The person you are negotiating with doesn’t approach you with an agenda or even use a language that you completely understand, but you are now negotiating with that tiny being all the same.

You want different things: “I want to close my eyes for a week!” “I want to be held and fed immediately!” So now what? These may look like competing needs (an either/or scenario) but every day new parents figure out creative options to successfully negotiate this conflict. And the journey of dealing with different values, needs, and priorities continues all the way through your guidance of that child’s growth and beyond. Phew!

The old folks like to talk about how much easier (better) parenting was back in the day when young ones didn’t have as much choice in their lives and parents dictated the family agenda. I have been told that I had basically zero negotiating power as an infant because my mother said she fed me on a schedule whether I was crying or sleeping or hungry or not. But that was before the tsunami of information flow that is the almighty Internet; before child development and adolescent psychology became household terms.

I think the word ‘negotiation’ conjures for some of us images of things that are personally irrelevant and possibly scary or dis-empowering. For example, before I started studying mediation & negotiation and changing the way I thought about conflict, I saw ‘negotiating’ as something done exclusively by men, business leaders, and politicians. Three things I am not!

When my son was about 5 I recall telling someone that he and I were negotiating about how to spend our morning, and I remember feeling like a Grown Up for using the N word (could have been the first time in my life, actually). That was an eye-opener for me about relationship dynamics and the power that 2 people can have to create a desired shared future.