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June 2006

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David Steele
Founder and CEO,
Relationship Coaching Institute

Cindy Briolotta, President
Relationship Coaching Network

Linda Marshall - Photo
Linda Marshall
Director | Couples Programs

Tara Kachaturoff - Photo
Tara Alexandra Kachaturoff
Editor | Partners in Life Couples News

Copyright 2006 by
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Ask Our Coaches:
Co-parenting Our Children

This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your questions to who will forward them to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.

Dear 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 …

As parents, you need to define jointly the approach you and your husband consistently will take regarding discipline and all other aspects of parenting.

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.

Frankie Doiron | | 905.453.7451

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 |

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.

Linda A. Marshall, M.Div. | 937.684.2245
RCI Director of Couple’s Programs |

David responds...

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.

David Steele, MA, LMFT
Founder and CEO, Relationship Coaching Institute |


Feature Article:
How to Get Both Parents on the Same Page

By Jeff Herring

As parents raising children, you’ve probably come across this issue (more than once) …

“My spouse and I cannot agree on how to raise our kids. I think my spouse is too strict and my spouse thinks I am too lenient. Meanwhile, the kids are getting away with everything. What can we do?”

This is an excellent and all-too-common question. In typical therapist fashion, I'm going to begin my answer with a question…

Where in the world did we get the idea that two parents have to agree on every aspect of parenting?

Somehow, we are supposed to believe that two separate individuals, who grew up with different models of how to parent, different life experiences and probably different temperaments, are now going to come together and agree on every facet of the complicated task of parenting? Sorry, I just don't buy it.

Not only is this an unworkable notion in the real world, it can be a damaging one as well. The optimal goal, of course, would be for these two different people to combine their respective parenting styles into a well-functioning and supportive parenting team. This is difficult, although it can and does happen. Nevertheless, when people believe the lie about always having to agree, a power struggle can be set up between the two adults.

We all like to be right and we tend to fight for our positions. In too many situations, instead of coming together as a team, parents grow farther and farther apart, rigidly adhering to their own styles.

A person with a more strict style has something to learn from the person with a more lenient style, and vice versa. Instead of learning from each other, the strict one becomes stricter and the lenient one becomes more lenient. This creates, at best, criticism, resentment, and a gap big enough for a child to drive a truck through. The children suffer, and the parents cancel each other out.

The Parent Trap

It also sets up what I call the “parent trap.” Picture the face of a clock. At 12 o'clock is the word “angry,” at four o’clock the word “sympathy,” and at eight o’clock the phrase “taken advantage of.”

The trap begins when a child misbehaves, does something wrong or gets in to trouble. The parent starts at the top of the clock, becomes “angry” and says something like, “OK, that does it, you’re grounded for life!” or some equally unrealistic statement.

After a while, the parent moves on down the clock to “sympathy,” and lets the child off the hook.

Sure enough, the child takes advantage, and repeats the same action or something equally frustrating. This moves the parent over to feeling “taken advantage of.”

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.”

Do you see the vicious circle this sets up? In the middle is the child -- running the show.

Now let's complicate this process even more, with our two different parenting styles.

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

One of the simplest ways to get out of the “parent trap” is called the odd/even schedule.

Here's how it works: On odd-numbered days, one parent will be in charge of parenting. That means that all discipline, privileges, discussions, etc., go through that parent for that particular day. The other parent is to stand by and merely observe (unless there is blood or some other legitimate emergency).

The parent who is “on call” for that day can consult with the other parent if he or she so chooses. Otherwise, the “off duty” parent is required to “sit on their wisdom” for the day. The following day, on the even day, the roles are simply reversed. The parent who was in charge is now off duty, and the parent who was off duty is now in charge.

This plan can benefit the family in several ways:

• The parents come together to agree to follow the plan

• Each parent has the opportunity to observe the other in action to see that he or she can parent

• Each parent gets to practice his or her own parenting skills

• The children get to see each parent in charge

• The door is open for the parents to come together as a team

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.

Jeff Herring, MS, LMFT and | 850.580.5333


Words of Wisdom

“Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.”
~David Starr Jordan

"Having your way is a lot easier when you have more than one way."
~Jennifer James, as quoted in “Chocolate for a Woman's Soul”

“A perfect parent is a person with excellent child-rearing theories and no actual children.”
~Dave Barry

“Most of the time we don’t communicate, we just take turns talking.”
~Robert Anthony


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