From my book, Marriage Minutes, available at Amazon.com
Marriage Minute # 20 The Impossible Triangle
More dangerous than the Bermuda Triangle is another treacherous triangle. It is a danger to both individuals and families, drags marriages down, and puts each family member in a no-win situation.
It is the Impossible Triangle, and here is what it looks like. One family member, usually a parent, says to another member, usually the other parent, “I don’t think you are being tough enough on …”, some other member of the family, usually one of the children. While it sounds at first like a discussion on parenting skills and approaches, it is actually a trap. Like in the Bermuda Triangle, things are not as they seem to be. Before they know it, these three people are caught in the Impossible Triangle.
At one point of the triangle is the strong advocate of power. They say that you’ve got to be tough on kids or they will run over you. The problem is that they mean that literally. They want “you”, the other parent, to be tough on the child. In our society, the parent that is calling for the strongest approach to parenting is often erroneously considered to be the “correct” one. But, this person is in an impossible spot because they do not have the relationship with the child that enables them to negotiate their own respect, mutual respect, with the child. Pulling your spouse into the bedroom, telling them they just aren’t running a tight ship, then saying, “Now you get back out there and fight!”, puts you in the Impossible Triangle. You meant well, but things weren’t as they seemed.
Another point of the triangle is the parent that wants to take a different approach. They may have more of a relationship, especially in the case of the step-family where the biological parent has the advantage of the bonding experiences that occurred from birth, or before. This parent feels caught in the middle. They want to please their spouse, but yet they don’t feel comfortable “tightening the screws” on their child, especially on an issue that they haven’t bought into. Sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of a sense of obligation or guilt, this person tries to carry out their spouse’s directives, but soon they find themselves in an Impossible Triangle. Their child is not happy with what seems to be an unwarranted shift in power, and the spouse is not happy with what seems to be a half-hearted effort by this parent, who meant well, but things weren’t as they seemed.
The third point of the triangle is the child. They come in all varieties, but in the Impossible Triangle they feel squeezed into a mold. One parent isn’t who they used to be, and the other parent is a distant voice, giving orders from elsewhere. Power seems to have shifted, and it is the normal human response to grab for power when we think power has shifted. For reasons, whether fine or poor, the child joins in the power struggle. The child, just like their parents, isn’t always seeing things clearly in the Impossible Triangle.
Get out of the Impossible Triangle, by building healthy one-to-one relationships. Have family meetings to build good communication. Do the good and long work of building a family. Outside the Triangle it’s harder than it looks, but it’s also better than it looks.
Next article, we will look at how to get out of the Impossible Triangle.
Marriage Minute # 21 Bad Trigonometry
Last article, I wrote about the “Impossible Triangle”. The dangerous triangle happens when two people experience conflict over a third person, and a jostling match begins between them over how to relate to this third person. They begin to play a game known as, “Let’s You and Him Fight”. The one with the seemingly highest scruples will pull their partner into the bedroom and insist that they both get tough, and that they both must present themselves exactly alike. This triangle is one that often happens in the work of child-raising, so I will give a moment’s attention to that.
Getting out of the Triangle requires knowledge of a few facts that are often missed in the Triangle. First, relationships need to be straight (dual) and not triangular. The relationship between any two people belongs to the two of them and not to a third person. Instead of telling your spouse, “Let’s you and him fight!”, just get out of the bedroom and go build your own relationship with the child in question. Yes, that may take a long, long time, but that is the way relationship is built. When someone says that you must treat a third person in exactly the same way that they treat them, don’t play the game.
Second, the principle of good behavior is not the question. To carefully choose the best approach, or vehicle, for guiding the child, is not weakness or poor parenting. Finding the right vehicle for bringing out good behavior from your child doesn’t mean that you are going “too easy” on the child. It may only mean that you are looking for a good match with the temperament and personality of the child. This “caught in the middle parent” should step out of the triangle.
Third, when “everything becomes a test”, it is time for the family to remember that being a family is not like being an experiment. Pavlov had his dogs, and Skinner had his rats in the box. But, people don’t thrive in such an environment. Yes, you will hear a lot about these theories in books about parenting, but I fear that many theorists have tried to create parenting in the image of dogs and rats, when people have been created in a very different image (Genesis 1:26; Colossians 3:10), and parenting must be created in the image of the person the child is, and will be. If you don’t want your house to be a Circus, then it will be necessary to shed the idea that we are “training” children like we train seals.
Fourth, see human dignity as an equal right. While there are a lot of privileges in adulthood that children don’t have, there are some rights that we are all born with. One of these is the right to human dignity. A child has the right to be spoken to with respectful words, not cursed at, not belittled, and so on. This is true whether they are young or old, have good grades or bad, and even regardless of how well they have performed. Parents deserve human dignity, too, by the way. Take this attitude to the family meeting, and quality relationships can be built.