Hi Dr Justin,
"My husband and I see parenting so differently. He expects the kids to always be ready to listen, do as they’re told, and pretty much obey him all the time no matter what. I agree with him that the kids need to be respectful. But while he is really impatient and gets angry when they don’t jump when he says jump, I try to understand them and be patient with them. I still want them to do as they’re told, but where he gets angry, I like to try and work through things with them a bit more. How do I get him to be more patient, and on the same page as me?"
Parenting on the same page is harder than it sounds. We all think our ideas are good ideas – and that they’re correct. And we struggle to see how someone else can think about the same situation differently. We also usually think that the way we were raised was pretty good. After all, “I turned out ok”. And when our partner or spouse suggests we’re doing it wrong, it can feel like a personal attack, as well as an attack on our parents and our upbringing!
I agree, in principle, with the way you’re trying to respond to your child. You’re being kind, patient, and compassionate, but you’re also being clear with your kids that you expect them to behave appropriately and respectfully. However, pointing at your husband and saying, “See, I told you that this is the right way” is not going to convince him to change.
Why is that?
People don’t usually like it when we try to “fix” them. They get defensive, and they actually become even more committed to their ideas. The more we try to force them to change, the more resistant to change they become.
What are your alternatives?
In my book, 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know, I make a handful of suggestions that may be helpful. Let’s consider a few of them here:
Suggestion 1: Create a shared vision
I know that sounds very hard, and maybe even a bit corporate… but hear me out. When you get in the car to go out for dinner, do you always know where you’re going? Or do you spend time sitting there arguing about whether it’s going to be one thing or the other? You need to know where you want to go before you can get there. So have a conversation with one another about what you want your family to be like.
This can get tricky, so consider the following questions:
When do we feel like we’re doing well, what are we doing? And how can we do more of that?
What are the things that leave us – and the kids – feeling lousy? Is it wise to stop doing those things, or substitute something else?
What do we really want our family to feel like? What’s our goal?
Suggestion 2: Agree to chat before your ‘parenting moments’
This won’t work for everyone, but when a child requires some ‘discipline’ (that is, teaching and guidance), talk with your partner first. Describe what happened, focus on your shared vision, and discuss how you can deal with the kids based on what matters most. Will screaming at them and punishing them do the trick? Nope? Ok… so what will? One of you will probably be calmer than the other, so you can step back, think it through, talk about it, and then approach your child in a united way.
This won’t always work. A parent who wants to leave a screaming baby to cry it out is unlikely to have a relaxed chat about controlled crying with a partner who wants to hold an upset baby all night. Similarly, if your kids are hurting others or damaging property, they may need to be separated or given a distraction so you can talk – or perhaps you’ll need to wait for a partner to get home before you can discuss things. In these instances, we do the best we can to get through, focus on that shared vision (Suggestion 1 above), or go to Suggestion 3 (below).
Suggestion 3: Agree to experiment
When you simply cannot get alignment, perhaps you can agree to experiment. It goes like this: “Why don’t we try it your way for the next week and see how it goes? We’ll see how we feel, how the kids feel, and how the family functions. Then, we can try my way for a week and see what happens.”
So long as no one is being hurt and people’s values can be respected, this can be a useful approach. We need to be thoughtful about it, and honest in our feedback. But after a couple of weeks of trying it out, a way forward can usually be reached – even if it sometimes (almost always) requires some compromise.
Raising children is tough enough without opposition from other adults who share the responsibility. Same page parenting increases family satisfaction and improves outcomes for children – so long as the habits are positive.
United parents don’t do everything the same. You’ll never agree on everything. But achieving a level of consistency and being willing to work together can create a family climate that is positive for our families.