How Can I Stop Arguing With My Kids?

Dear Sober Dad,

How do I avoid power- driven arguments with my eight-year-old daughter? For me, sobriety has involved a lot of work trying to clear up what…maybe didn’t work very well in my own childhood. So, I’m trying to learn, grow, and change, but I still find myself saying things that could have come straight out of the mouths of either of my parents.

-Katie P., Cleveland Heights, OH


Dear Katie,

First, Sober Dad commends you for your high level of self-awareness!

Another Mom—heck, your own mom—might have put all the blame on the child, as in, “Why doesn’t my daughter listen to me?”

Oh, she’s listening.

She just doesn’t like what you’re saying.

So when you describe the disputes as “power-driven,” you are recognizing your part in them…which takes courage and humility.
Sober Dad applauds you.

Now he would like to share with you a brilliant piece of advice he read in John Gray’s classic, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, which should be mandatory reading for every sober adult.

Please forgive Sober Dad (and John Gray) for being somewhat politically incorrect, because this advice is (dare we think it!) gender-based.

Gray says that men make the mistake of engaging into discussions, which often quickly turn into arguments, with their wives or girlfriends, instead of recognizing a key fact.

Many women, he says, will discover how they feel by expressing opinions.

They don’t necessarily believe every statement they make.

They are trying on opinions the way they might go to the store and try on shoes.

If an opinion isn’t precisely right, upon hearing herself say it, a woman will invariably abandon it.

But – and here’s the key – if the opinion is attacked, she will defend it fiercely…even if she doesn’t really believe it 100%. Or at all.

Sober Dad could go on with the analogy – that men only speak when they have already decided internally how they feel – but you get the point.

In our politically correct times, we mistakenly assume that there are no inherent differences between genders.

But there are.

And I truly believe this is one of them.

So the next time your daughter expresses an opinion contrary to something you believe, whether it has to do with a later bedtime or a desire to be tattooed, don’t engage.

Just say something innocuous, like, “Mmm,” or “That’s interesting,” or “I see your point.”

Then wait a couple of minutes and tell your child, in a loving manner, exactly how things are going to be.

You’re the parent, after all. You are the grown up. Make that your mantra.

In whatever situation you find yourself with your daughter, you are the parent and grown up with whom she is engaging. It’s not your mom. It’s not your dad. It’s not your past, or your future. It’s you. At that moment. And in that moment, you get to choose how to be the grown up, the parent.

Give your daughter the same freedom you desire, to express opinions without fear of contradiction. Give her the space to change her mind, and the room to realize she has.

She knows she isn’t staying up until midnight or getting a sleeve tattoo.

Not for the next ten years, anyway.

She’s just opining.

So the easiest way to avoid power-driven arguments is to save your power for when it’s truly needed.

Let her say what she needs to say and remember she’s just thinking out loud.

She might even be trying to bait you into an argument to prove to herself that “I’m always wrong and Mommy doesn’t listen.”

That’s not a great affirmation to give a child.

So Sober Dad says, listen to her, don’t make her defend her positions, no matter how immature – she is only eight, for goodness’ sake — and you and she will have a much happier time together.