“I” versus “we” pronouns can be very important, when coParents are speaking to their child.
When a parent responds to a child’s need in the first person, using “I,” a subtle barrier is built that excludes other people. This is very important when an apology is necessary, as in “I’m sorry that I made a mistake,” but it can be destructive as well. “I decided that you can go” or “I thought about it and you can have a cell phone” excludes coParents. It makes the speaker a good guy and risks casting the other parent as the bad guy.
Better to use the third person “we” in these situations to knit the child’s safety net together tighter. Not only does healthy coParenting serve the adults’ needs; it works to the child’s benefit as well. Feeling connected to more than one anchor—held tight by more than one parent—strengthens feelings of security. When coParents do their job right, the structures that the child internalizes—limits and boundaries and routines—are that much sounder and clearer and reassuring.
Some adults parent alone, of course. Whether by choice or by chance. Widowed or deserted or untrusting, isolated or anxious and apart. Single parents have only their own very finite emotional fuel to give their child. For those who found that past partners took more than they gave, single parenting may feel like a relief. Like a leak in the gas tank has been repaired, leaving that much more available for the person who needs and deserves the fuel: the child.
For those who have lost a valued parenting partner abruptly, parenting alone can be overwhelming. Grief in all of its torturous and shifting forms—rage and sadness, guilt and neediness—can drain your emotions, depriving a child who has already lost one anchor of a second. Worse still is the risk to the child whose parents have made parenting into a competitive sport—a contest to win his love, to prove that one parent is better by demonstrating that the other is worse.
The single parent’s grief and the injured parent’s pain and the addicted parent’s obsession are each enough to drain emotional resources, leaving a child to feel empty and unanchored. But this parent, engaged in a war in which the child is the prize, is actively and needlessly doing harm. This parent is devoting emotional energy that the child needs and deserves to the selfish and pointless task of proving oneself by decimating someone else, heedless of the fact that that enemy is, in fact, the child’s other anchor.