Lead, Follow or Get out of the Way by Fern Weis



Lead, follow, or get out of the way. In a family with two parents (together or not), it’s common for each of you to have different strengths and challenges when it comes to parenting. One of you may be volatile, while the other is even-tempered. Or maybe your partner is consistent with discipline and you are the ‘soft touch.’ This can be a source of conflict, and of confusion for your child. To do right by your child, it’s important to lead, follow, or get out of the way. Think of it as a safety net of sorts for providing your kids with limits, boundaries, security and growing responsibility.

There are days you will be a leader, and other times it’s important to be a follower. Sometimes we are teachers, and other times learners, and often we are learning from our children. Every person has strengths and challenges, and we can end up in both categories multiple times a day. So what’s the problem?

The problem is when you find yourself in the middle, trying to take control of something that is beyond your ability or is not your business. That’s when you are in the way, when you must have the strength of your convictions and lead, follow, or get out of the way.

This happens a lot in parenting. Often referred to as ‘not being on the same page’ with your co-parent, it’s more complicated than it appears.

You and your partner may disagree on how to handle a situation. Ask yourself why. Is it based on a principle or an emotion? The emotional side is usually fear-based. What do you fear: a negative reaction from your child or partner, conflict, an uncertain outcome? Be honest with yourself and with your partner.

If you’re a single parent with no partner in the picture, you’ll have this conversation with yourself. Pay attention to your inner voice and the body responses that give you signals about being in or out of integrity.

During his teen years, my son was off-track, derailed. Yes, he made poor decisions. The fact is that my husband and I contributed by being wishy-washy and making threats on which we rarely followed through. My husband used to talk about military school or boarding school, but there were no teeth behind it… and our son knew it.

We were definitely operating out of fear and denial. I think of denial as a manifestation of fear. “I can’t/don’t want to accept the reality of what’s going on; the decisions that have to be made; the reaction of my child.” You get the picture.

Try taking turns being the decision-makers and influencers. What role you take will depend upon what your triggers are, the stories you tell yourself that may or may not be true, and the severity of the problem. This time around, I was the one who pushed hard for a wilderness program for our child. It was the beginning of his turnaround, and ours. I’m just thankful that one day we woke up and did what was needed. (And I’m happy to tell you that our story ended well.)

The best decisions are based on what is in your child’s best interest, not on your level of comfort or discomfort. Sometimes you just have to get out of the way (and out of your own way) for that to happen. If you think about it, the act of getting out of the way can be considered an act of leadership! How do you like that?!

What is your motivation – a principle/conviction or fear?

If you are taking a stand based on your convictions and your child’s best interest, bravo! This takes clarity, courage and a degree of faith.

I know every one of you loves your child. The question is, are you doing right by your child? If you are standing your ground or giving in to a stronger-willed partner because you’re scared, use some of these questions to settle down and focus on the bigger picture:

* What is my real motivation? * Do I know, deep down, what is the ‘right’ thing to do, but feel unable to do it? * Can I live with my/my partner’s decision? * Do I really want my partner to take charge so it gets done? * Where can I compromise? Is a compromise necessary? Is it possible? * Who is more consistent, me or my partner? * Which one of us can be more calm in delivering the message to our child? * When appropriate, what will it take for me to defer to him/her? * What does my child really need?

It’s crucial to recognize your strengths and limitations. Lead, follow, or get out of the way so you can do right by your child.

* The attribution of this quote is murky. It ranges from General George Patton, to mogul Ted Turner, to philosopher Thomas Paine.


Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Life Coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting. In fact, they are often the problem! Fern helps families with teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, from homework wars to addiction recovery, and all points in between. She works with parents to release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to reach their potential and be successful through life’s challenges. More information on parent coaching and workshops at www.fernweis.com

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