Relationship Article Bank
Cindy Briolotta, President
Copyright 2006 by PartnersInLife.org
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This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your questions to Linda@relationshipcoachinginstitute.com who will forward them to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.
My husband travels a lot and most of the time I’m at home alone with our pre-school children. I’m discovering we have very different approaches to parenting. When one of the children does something wrong, I take a gentle approach. I try to find out if they know they’ve done something wrong. Once that’s established and I can see some evidence of remorse, I comfort them while at the same time emphasizing what they did was clearly wrong. Then, together, we clean up the mess or right the wrong.
My husband takes a much more stern approach, using a gruff tone of voice and harshly involving them in righting the wrong or cleaning up the mess. I am concerned about this, especially since he isn't around a lot. I am afraid the children will experience fear in his presence. I can see the look of fear in their eyes when this is happening. One of the children seems tenser when he comes home.
I’ve tried talking to him about this, but I don't think he understands how scary this is for them and for me. Do you have any suggestions about how I could approach him more effectively?
A Concerned Mother
Frankie responds …
Then you both need to follow through with the rules and processes that you’ve agreed upon -- without variance. This demonstration of teamwork (togetherness) will help your children understand that the two of you are one parenting unit. This will help them understand that boundaries and consequences are consistent, and, most importantly, it will make them feel safe.
Your goal is to achieve mutual agreement with your husband that this approach is a win/win for the entire family and that it removes him from the role of bad guy. Approach him from this standpoint. Ask his help to co-create and implement the guidelines that will help your children grow into fine adults.
Sandra responds …
No one should have to live in fear, not your children, and not you! Controlling through fear is emotional abuse, which is every bit as damaging to the personality as physical abuse.
If he has ever hit you, or if you feel that you or your children are in physical danger, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787 for assistance.
In any event, it’s time for you to reach out for help. You might start by talking with your clergyman, or by finding a marriage counselor to help you address this situation with your husband. Meeting with a counselor, together as a couple, may help your husband see just how destructive his behavior is, both to you and your children. If your husband won’t attend with you, there’s still great benefit to you if you seek out professional help. All the best.
Sandra Rohr | SDRohr@aol.com
Linda responds …
Here are some things to consider regarding the tasks couples face in creating a sustainable and fulfilling marriage.
After the glow of romantic love wears off, every couple’s challenge is learning to deal with differences. So, you and your husband have differences in parenting styles. It’s not uncommon for the mother to have a gentler approach, and the father a more firm one. Both approaches are needed. If your husband’s approach is abusive, that’s not what I’m talking about.
It’s important that couples communicate their differences to each other in a respectful way, letting go of needing to be right. It’s important to make an effort to understand each other’s perspective, and then to find ways that will work for both of you and which are in the best interests of the children.
It’s important to include your husband, when he’s present, in his parenting role. An important task for all couples is creating a safe haven for the expression of differences, anger, and conflict. A parenting or relationship coach can help you with this.
Another task is embracing the daunting roles of mother and father. A baby’s dramatic entrance makes a huge impact on a relationship. After the birth of a baby, it is normal for a woman’s libido to decrease. This biological change happens so that women care for their infants instead of trying to produce another child.
If this has happened in your relationship, you may want to have an honest dialogue with your husband and give attention to his thoughts and feelings. At the same time you’re both absorbing this enormous change, it’s vital you both work to protect your own privacy and your own adult lives. These usually suffer, as attending to an infant’s needs becomes a priority for a while. It is important to be conscious of this. Perhaps your husband is feeling neglected and that may be unconsciously contributing to his harsh manner. I hope this helps. Best to you, your husband, and your children.
I agree with Linda that men and women often have differences in their approach to parenting. It is common for mothers to have a softer, nurturing, more feeling-oriented approach to parenting, and for fathers to have a firmer, authoritative, results-oriented approach to parenting.
I also agree with Frankie and Jeff (see article below) on the importance of proactively discussing and planning your co-parenting together. While your personality and styles will be different, you need to accept and appreciate your differences and be on the same page about expectations, consequences, etc.
And I agree with Sandra on the need for professional support in this situation.
So if I agree with what's been said so far, why am I adding my two cents?
Because I'd like to point out the role of fear and belief or judgment. If you believe or judge that your husband's approach is harming your child then you will be fearful for him/her, which s/he will pick up upon and mirror. His/her fear may not really be of his/her Dad, s/he may be mirroring your fear for him/her.
Read your question through and pick out the judgment in your language. For example, what you see as "stern," "gruff," and "harsh" might simply be firm and authoritative. A father is not a male mother. He has a deeper voice that often gets children's attention more effectively, which can be interpreted negatively by the soft-spoken, nurturing mother. If he travels a lot and doesn't deal with the kids everyday like you, he might have less patience, be more easily frustrated by their behavior, and be compensating for his own judgment that you are too soft.
What you see as your child "tensing up" when his father comes home may simply be culture shock. S/he's been alone with you for long periods and used to your soft approach and then suddently has to adjust to another parent with a different approach.
Now if s/he really has reason to fear his/her Dad (ie. verbal, emotional, physical abuse) then that is a serious problem that requires professional support. But please make sure your own fear and judgment of your husband's parenting isn't creating a "good guy/bad guy" problem.
Irregardless, please seek professional support with your husband to deal with this situation. It is not likely you will be able to resolve this on your own. You need an expert opinion to assuage (or confirm) your fear that your child might be harmed, and a neutral third party to help you and your husband come together as co-parents and learn to accept, appreciate, and resolve your differences.
By Jeff Herring
As parents raising children, you’ve probably come across this issue (more than once) …
This is an excellent and all-too-common question. In typical therapist fashion,
I'm going to begin my answer with a question…
The Parent Trap
The parent doesn't feel this way for too long before thinking or saying,
“How could you do this after all I've done for you?!” The parent
quickly returns to the top of the clock -- to “anger.”
Imagine having one parent stuck on anger and the other one stuck on sympathy, or some equally damaging combination. There again is that hole you can drive a truck through.
Getting Out of the Parent Trap
This doesn't have to be long-term, but can help diffuse the power struggle and get both parents on the same page. The task of parenting is difficult enough without it becoming a power struggle between the two adults. It's crucial to remember that the goal is to form an effective team, with both parents drawing on their own unique skills and learning from each other. In this way, the entire family benefits.
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