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Collaborative Parenting: Picking Your Battles with Michael McNeill and Angela Catenaro McNeill

collaborative_parenting_sqPicking Your Battles: How we learned to let go and trust our child’s decision (that we so wanted him not to make.) 

Mike’s perspective:

One sunny day in July of 2013, while driving home with my oldest son from his weekly guitar lesson, we were having a discussion about his need to practice throughout the week. Elliot was two months into his six-month prepaid lessons. During our back and forth banter, I said to Elliot if he didn`t practice he would lose his time on electronic devices. His response was that he did not want to take guitar lessons any more. I felt the anger rise in my throat. I took a breath as I didn`t want to respond in anger and said to Elliot that we just paid for the lessons and, before paying, he had committed to signing up for another six months. I was doing my best to talk to him calmly. My thoughts were bouncing around from “You need to teach him perseverance,” to “We purchased an electric guitar for his birthday last year and now you are just going to let him quit!”

I knew that my son was reacting to my threat of taking away his electronic time to enforce his daily practice. For months, possibly years, it had been fine for him to go to the lessons, but to get him to practice was like pulling teeth. I had spoken to his teacher and he had suggested that Elliot should practice for fifteen minutes per day. I felt this was the minimum he should practice in comparison to the time he wanted to spend on electronic games and watching television.

I felt that having made a commitment, and I should not allow him to get out of it. As a boy, I was always told to “Finish what you start”.

I was feeling angry but instead of screaming at him I decided to give the calmest answer I could speak at the time – “Wait, let’s discuss this when we get home and speak with your mother.” Plus, it gave me some time to think of how to how to best to respond to the situation so Elliot would understand and not shut down.

Angela’s Perspective:

When Mike and Elliot returned from Elliot’s guitar lesson, they shared that Elliot no longer wanted to learn to play the guitar and he wanted to end immediately. I asked Mike what had happened, and he told me about their exchange in the car. I immediately knew Elliot was rebelling against his father’s threat. Punishment has never motivated Elliot to do what we have wanted him to do. Since he first started to speak his question had always been “Why?”

I felt hot and angry. I reminded Elliot that we had given him the choice before signing up for the six-month commitment, and he expressed his desire to continue. His lessons were paid in full and we would lose our money. His answer was that he didn’t want to do it anymore and why were we forcing him to do it.

Our Collaborative Solution: 

These were the roadblocks we were hitting communicating with our son:

  • Elliot had no invested interest in the fact that we paid in full for his lessons. His solution to this problem was to ask his teacher for a refund. Elliot had no understanding that we felt he was being disrespectful to his teacher and to us by not being considerate of his teacher’s worth and that our money had been spent.
  • Elliot did not buy into us teaching him to honour his commitment by “finishing what he’d started.” In this instance, he felt his free will was being taken away and that we were “forcing” him to learn guitar because he had no interest in continuing.
  • I expressed to Elliot that he was only being stubborn and rebelling against his father’s threat. Elliot’s response, was “Ya so?” Even though Elliot did have the insight to know that he felt calmer when he limited his electronic play, electronic play (screen time) was his main motivation in his life. He was willing to give up learning the guitar to eliminate the threat of not being allowed on electronic devices.

We both decided to step back and take time to contemplate what was happening and our reactions to the situation. The questions that arose for us were:

  1. What is wrong with Elliot discontinuing guitar lessons?
  2. Is this a battle that really needs to be fought?
  3. Why are we feeling angry?
  4. How do we teach Elliot to honour commitments without taking away his free will?
  5. What consequences can be applied should he decide to discontinue the guitar lessons?

We decided to allow Elliot to make the decision to discontinue his guitar lessons with these stipulations:

  • He was to speak to his guitar teacher and explain why he was choosing to stop.
  • We would not ask his teacher for a refund, but instead, Elliott would reimburse us for the remaining lessons out of his own savings.
  • Elliot must find another extra-curricular activity that did not require a screen.

We discussed these terms with Elliot and he agreed to them. These were the outcomes:

  • At the next week’s scheduled lesson, Elliot spoke to his teacher and expressed his feelings in discontinuing the lessons. His teacher didn’t refund our money but did leave the remaining lessons open so Elliott could resume lessons if he wanted to.
  • Elliot did pay us back $125.00 from his saved money
  • Elliot chose to take cooking classes, which he still continues to enjoy.

In speaking with other parents, friends and family members, all said that we should make Elliott respect his commitment and complete the guitar lessons. However, we both strongly felt that this approach was what got us into the conflict to begin with, and knowing our son, we should give Elliot the autonomy to make the choice and possibly experience the consequences of his choice.

Of note, since his last guitar lesson, Elliot has not picked up or even looked at his flame guitar and he is happily attending cooking classes.


mike_angela_mcneill_150pxsqMike and Angela are married and have enjoyed partnership for 18 years. They live in Ontario Canada with their two children, Elliot aged twelve and James aged nine. Both Mike and Angela are certified in the CosmiKids™ teaching methodology Resonant Learning Approach™ and provide training programs to parents, teachers, and anyone who desires to learn tools to live a more conscious and inspired life.

Mike has been working within the rehabilitation and insurance industries for the past 23 years. Angela is a certified Yoga teacher, Reiki Energy Healer, Spiritual Life Coach, and Goodwill Ambassador of CosmiKids Canada. Angela is a founding member of the New Thought Educational Consortium, an international group of individuals that are collectively focusing on the empowerment.