My husband and I did not have good role models growing up. Both of our parents shouted and intimidated to get their kids to cooperate, and that is how we parented for a long time. But I have made a lot of effort to learn better approaches -- including what I read in your column -- and things with my kids are improving all the time. My husband gets furious when I tell him what he is doing wrong- - like yelling or embarrassing our children to get them to do what he wants. I hate seeing him ruin his relationship with them the way his parents did with him.
If you have read my column, you know that I often say that human beings are wired to resist being bossed around, and that when we come at someone, rather than alongside them, they are likely to resist. This is as true for adults as it is for children. With that in mind, here's my advice:
• Refrain from telling your husband what he is doing wrong. I understand how frustrating it is to watch him use the very parenting strategies that you are working hard to avoid, like yelling, criticizing and threatening. I am sure that you have his best interest at heart, as well as those of your children. But if you scold him, you will come across not as his caring wife, but as his shaming mother. This will no doubt trigger his old childhood pain, reinforcing his resistance to your input.
• Help your husband build confidence as a parent. Most of us are painfully aware of our shortcomings. We know when we have crossed the line, whether or not we admit it to anyone -- including ourselves. Positive reinforcement will go much further in helping your husband feel that you two are a team, and that you appreciate whatever effort he is making to grow as a parent. Catch him doing something well with your kids, and let him know that you noticed.
• Don't add fuel to the fire by correcting him in front of your children. When people feel stressed, they revert to what we call backup behaviors. It makes sense that when your kids are misbehavior and your husband's frustration builds, he resorts to the very approaches his parents used, even if he knows that they are damaging. Disapproving of him in front of your kids will only make things worse.
• Be a safe outlet for your children, but don't undermine their father. It is fine to console them if they tell you how mad they are at their dad. "I understand, honey. You were hoping daddy would understand when you needed more time to pick out your outfit." But avoid taking their side against their father. As tempting as it may be to be the "good cop" to his "bad cop", it is not in your children's best interest.
• If you need to discuss a parenting issue with your husband, wait untl he has calmed down and the two of you can speak privately. Begin by acknowledging his point of view.
"I know that Jason was being awful this morning, and that you were in a hurry to get to work. But I felt really sad when I saw him leaving the house so hurt, and with you so angry. Can you hear me out for two or three minutes? And then I promise to listen to you, too."
Speak from your heart about your concerns, without blaming him or making him wrong.
"I want so badly for you and Jason to have a good relationship. When I watch him pull away from you, or go to school so upset, I feel really sad."
Simply share what feelings came up for you about the incident, allowing him to absorb what you've said without insisting he admit he was wrong, or that he immediately promise to change. If he becomes defensive, let him say his piece without interrupting, acknowledging his point of view.
"I know you had asked him three times to get moving. I understand that you felt pressured to get out the door, and he wasn't doing what you asked. I know how frustrating that is."
Over time, if he feels you aren't routinely blaming him for his missteps, he may soften, perhaps even asking what you might have done differently. If that day comes, don't bombard him with advice or come across as a know-it-all.
"I've noticed that when Jason tunes me out, he responds pretty well when I touch his arm and make eye contact. Maybe that would work with you, too."
• Support your husband in building a connection with each of your kids individually. Children who feel seen and liked are generally easier to parent. Your husband may be unsure about how to build a loving connection with your children. Look for ways to help him to get to know your kids in one on one activities, perhaps gifting him with a few cooking classes to go to with your chef-minded son, or a horse show with your equestrian-loving daughter.
• Consider couples counseling if you and your husband cannot talk about your differences. While few couples are always in synch with their parenting styles, it is important that your relationship allows for each of you to feel heard, and to know that your point of view is respected. While I have recommended that you refrain from scolding your husband for how he parents, I would hope you two can talk -- and listen -- to one another. If this is impossible, you may want to consider some marriage counseling.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting. To learn more, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.
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