I feel like my husband and I are playing “good cop” and “bad cop” with our children. He came from a family where children were expected to obey no matter what and I came from a family that was kinder and more respectful of individual needs. Our kids pretty much come to me for everything because their dad will always say “no.” He feels like I give in to them and he is only involved when I need him to discipline a kid. He wishes I would be stricter with the kids, and I wish he would be more fair and kind to them. Can you share any ideas on how to get out of this situation?
I agree you both need to get on the same page with your parenting approach so your kids aren’t caught in the middle. Even though most parents approach parenting differently, the biggest concern is that sticking to your individual styles can push you and your husband further away from each other. Divisions like this can strain your children’s relationships with each of you and creates insecurity in the foundation of the family.
Both of your parenting styles bring important elements of a healthy parenting approach. Dr. Haim Ginnott, author of the book “Between Parent and Child”, encouraged parents to be “strict with behavior but permissive with emotions.” In the Book of Mormon, Enos told us that his father “was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it.”[i] When we experience a balance of “nurture and admonition” from our parents, we are benefitting from the gifts of compassion and guidance.
Justice and mercy are essential for our proper development, but the healthy application of these in our parenting journey requires cooperation and inspiration. In general, it’s not helpful to elevate one over the other when trying to develop a unified parenting strategy for your family.
Of course, if one parenting style is abusive, demeaning, shaming, or neglectful, then it’s important to stand firm protect your children. Be careful, though, as you may be so comfortable with your own parenting style that your partner’s style may feel threatening to you, even if it’s not abusive or harmful. This is where seeking education together can help you work together to develop a parenting approach that you both feel good about.
Pick a time to sit down with your husband and talk about how important it is for you to be on the same page with him. Each of you needs a chance to talk about why you do what you do with your children. Listen carefully for the strengths in the approach and how it can help your children.
My guess is that your husband has some great ideas that can influence the way you parent your children. He probably notices things you don’t notice. The same goes for you as well. You notice things he doesn’t notice, which can inform his parenting style. The goal isn’t to turn the other person into a copy of you. The goal is to blend your styles into a unified way of interacting with your children.
If your children know that you respect each other’s strengths, they will respond better to each of you. If they sense your frustration with each other’s style, they will split and choose sides, which isn’t good for anyone.
Of course, if you and your husband can’t even begin this conversation with each other, seek out a qualified marriage counselor who can help you work through this conversation so you can be on the same page with each other. Sometimes the stakes feel so high and the issues so personal when it comes to parenting and family life that it can be difficult to navigate the conversation.
Let him know you want him involved and you value the strengths he brings to the family, even if his execution is rough and needs some work. Reassure him that you don’t want to undermine him when you get overwhelmed with his way of parenting. Ask him if he’s willing to work as a team to find the right balance of “nurture and admonition.” As you both become less polarized, everyone will benefit and you’ll both improve your relationships with your children.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Enos 1:1