“I’m so torn between my ideals of what marriage and chinuch should be and my practical reality on the ground”
Moderated by Faigy Peritzman
My husband and I were raised in very different households. While my in-laws are lovely, warm people, they’re also very proper and formal, and there are strict rules in their home. My own family is much more laid-back, and we all sort of go with the flow. (Did we discuss these differences while we were dating? We should have!)
Our kids, for better or for worse, take after me. They’re much more spontaneous and like doing their own thing whenever they want.
My husband has many rules he’d like to see enforced in the house — e.g., no shoes on furniture, no eating outside the kitchen, proper mealtimes, proper bedtimes. While I see the value in his approach, it’s very hard for me to implement these rules. As a result, we’ve created a monster. There are two sets of standards in the house. When Abba is home, things run accordingly; when he’s not, the kids fall into my pattern.
While I know that it’s my job to uphold my husband’s priorities, I simply don’t feel capable of doing so. And honestly, I understand my kids.
I wind up straddling both sides of the fence, passively looking the other way while my kids break my husband’s rules, hoping he doesn’t find out. I feel lousy about this, but I don’t know what else to do.
I’m so torn between my ideals of what marriage and chinuch should be and my practical reality on the ground.
Rabbi Reuven Epstein, CPA, is a highly regarded dating and marriage expert, serving as a speaker, chassan rebbi, rabbinic counselor, and author. Rabbi Epstein spearheads “The Marriage Project” at Marriage Pro, which provides online and in-person interactive resources for singles and couples looking to maximize their relationships.
Every home has this same struggle to one degree or another. Two people who come from separate homes are always raised with different standards, different approaches to chinuch, have different personalities, and will disagree on how loose or structured the home should be, among other matters.
I believe there’s a profound reason Hashem structured relationships like this. It’s so each person can remove their ego and learn to yield and blend emotionally (in a safe, trusting, and healthy way) with someone who is completely different from them but who ultimately completes them. In short, your struggle is the struggle of everyone you know.
The key to navigating this struggle is realizing that in a successful marriage both parties strive to become one unit, one voice, and have one overall outlook on life. This means that you may be correct about the ideal way to raise children and implement structure in your home, or your husband may be correct. But as long as you aren’t single-parenting, who is objectively correct isn’t important; what’s crucial is that your children see that their parents are on the same page.
When children grow up in a home where each parent offers a different perspective on the same issue, the kids learn quickly which parent will cave in on one issue or another. This doesn’t mean parents need to be in complete agreement on every issue, but it does mean their values need to be in sync. When children experience two conflicting value systems, it leads to instability.
Your husband can choose his friends and how he spends his time with them. He can make unilateral decisions that don’t affect the rest of the family. But chinuch, for example, is different. This area is a joint purview and must be treated as such.
A successful home is one in which the decisions that impact the home are made jointly by the parents, and each parent owns up to each decision. They don’t settle and feel resentful toward each other. They may adjust their mindset and change their position, but they both must reach a common end goal. They take the time to discuss it, so each owns the final unified decision, which is then presented to the children by both parents in a unified front. The mother shouldn’t be rolling her eyes (even behind closed doors) when her husband talks to the children. There is, of course, room for latitude — parents may have different preferences and wishes within the same greater value system — but the two perspectives have to be close enough that the children see a unified front.
While what you’re struggling with is universal, it’s playing itself out more prominently in your home because it doesn’t sound like you and your husband are on the same page. You write, “While I see the value in these approaches, it’s very hard for me to implement them.” It doesn’t sound like you sat down with your husband to discuss your approach to his rules and approaches, rather you describe a one-way street, where only you are trying to adjust to his wishes. Have you discussed your husband’s rules with him and offered your opinions? Does he see the value of your approach and view?
You write: “While I know that it’s my job to uphold my husband’s priorities….” Yet who decided that your husband should be the one to establish the rules of the home? Isn’t the home generally the wife’s domain, not the husband’s? Yes, you should respect your husband’s opinion, don’t get me wrong, but where is your voice in the marriage? I’m not referring to a harsh, crying, or complaining voice, but a sweet, confident, and caring voice.
I would advise you to take the longer, perhaps more complex route, which will undoubtedly become the less painful route in the long run. Talking it through, listening, and discussing your opinions with each other will ultimately allow you to arrive at a joint decision.
Instead, you are “passively looking the other way and allowing the kids to break my husband’s rules, while sincerely hoping he doesn’t find out.” I say this with an abundance of care for you and your family: Your passiveness is undoubtedly affecting your children — negatively.
If you need help arriving at a joint decision and creating a unified front to your children, it would be wise to speak to a third party to help you find your voice (if you were to go individually) or to help both of you get on the same page (if you were to approach this person as a couple).
In summary, the correct approach, in my opinion, is first to find your voice. Have a sit-down discussion where you explain that you are struggling to uphold some of the decisions he has made unilaterally. Voice your position and give lots of credibility to his overall approach as well, as I’m sure he has many points that benefit your family overall. Be ready to listen to his reasoning and to change your mindset and approach if it benefits your family.
If you’re struggling to make this happen, I suggest you respectfully assert that you would like to sit with a third party (such as a rav or rebbi who has experience guiding couples in marriage-related matters) to help you navigate this. If he rebuffs you, go to someone who can assist you behind the scenes.
Chaya Major, MSW, UP, MMC is a certified dating coach, marriage mentor, Oorah Rebbetzins shadchan, and therapist.
There is a lot to respond to in your letter.
You state that you and your husband never had a conversation about how you each were parented. It also sounds like you and your husband never had a conversation about whose parenting style you would lean toward.
Each of us brings our childhood experiences to our marriages, and these imprints manifest in how we relate to our spouse and to how we parent. Generally, neither spouse’s way is objectively wrong or right. But the pattern you are describing, in which you and your husband are undermining each other, is surely not right, not for your children or your shalom bayis.
In the 1960s, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind wrote a book, Authoritative Parenting: Synthesizing Nurturance and Discipline for Optimal Child Development, in which she defined three types of parenting styles — authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. (The fourth style, neglectful, was added later.)
Authoritarian parenting is when there is one-way communication. The parent establishes strict rules that are not explained, and the children are expected to follow them. Failure to do so usually leads to punishment. Authoritarian parents are usually less nurturing and lack flexibility.
Authoritative parents, on the other hand, develop a close relationship with the children. These parents explain clearly the rules and guidelines of the household. Instead of punishment, misdeeds are treated with disciplinary methods that are supportive rather than punitive. There is frequent communication between both parents and children in helping to develop goals and expectations. It involves the most work and patience from both parent and child, but unsurprisingly, it is deemed the healthiest approach.
In a home characterized by permissive parenting, the parents are warm and nurturing toward their children but there are few expectations. Parents leave children to fend for themselves with few rules and almost no discipline. Permissive parents are more like friends than parents to the children.
It sounds to me like your husband leans more to being an authoritarian parent whereas you lean more toward being a permissive parent. Perhaps there is a way for you to meet in the middle and parent from an authoritative place.
The best way to achieve that is through direct communication.
I would suggest sitting down with your husband (after all the children go to sleep) and having an honest talk about your parenting differences. Are there areas where you do agree on how to parent? And where exactly are the areas where you simply are not running parallel?
This conversation might require you to come clean about how you have been parenting. I would share with him how you do not believe you have the capacity to follow all his expectations about the rules he wants in the house. You should be honest and clear about which things come more naturally to you and which are more difficult.
Then ask him to pick the one rule that he believes to be the most important to him and the family. You should commit to working on that one alone. From your husband’s end, he will need to be willing to compromise and let go of all the other rules that you don’t find feasible to enforce right now.
Once you’ve seen success with one rule, G-d willing, it will give you the opportunity to add even more structure in the house.
When couples come together with different parenting styles, they get to create their own style of parenting. You each can take what you agree with from the parenting styles you were raised with and create your own style.
The bottom line is that both of you want what’s best for your children. With open communication, compromise, and work, you will get there!
Yitti Bisk has been teaching kallahs and mentoring dating and married women for over 30 years.
I appreciate your honesty and self-awareness. It’s wonderful that you want to align with your husband’s priorities. Calling them “your husband’s” makes it clear that they aren’t your own, and still you are sincerely interested in adopting them. You’re in a dilemma though, because while you acknowledge that following your husband is central to your “ideals of what marriage and chinuch should be,” you see yourself as incapable of doing things his way.
First, let’s recognize that this is a classic scenario. It’s normal for spouses to be different from one another. Often these differences are just what attracted them to each other in the first place!
I think that both styles of raising children — structured and more relaxed — can be effective as long as they are healthy and balanced. Just as your husband’s sense of order is intrinsic to his personality, your laid-back persona is a fundamental part of who you are.
On the other hand, the two of you as individuals are two halves of one whole. You must learn to blend your different voices and styles into a single, balanced, unified response. You will both need to adjust and make some accommodations to be able to stick together, even where your views diverge.
In parenting, what is important is that the two parents work together, stand together, support each other, express congruent goals, and are consistent and predictable.
I’m wondering… do you feel comfortable and safe sharing your thoughts, feelings, and values with each other? Have you ever had a good conversation about this in which each of you felt heard and validated? Broaching a difficult issue with your spouse might feel challenging, but it’s necessary for effective communication. Many couples see things differently and argue about many different aspects of marriage and parenting. What differentiates an argument from a productive conversation, though, is the key word: effective.
There are many reasons that couples don’t communicate effectively, including discomfort with confrontation, difficulty understanding and expressing one’s needs, fear of being vulnerable, and poor listening skills. But these skills can be learned, and with proper communication skills, both husband and wife can feel heard and understood.
Learning how to communicate effectively is best accomplished during the first years of marriage, when there is more motivation to grow together and willingness to be flexible. Although it’s never too late to start, both of you need to be willing to work at it. If that’s the case, then read on.
If your husband or you are not willing to work on this, or don’t feel comfortable or safe expressing your needs and feelings with each other, then working with a certified couple’s therapist or experienced rav is a better direction to take.
So here are my Having-That-Tough-Conversation Tips and Tools:
First figure out what you want out of this conversation.
Before you approach your husband, make sure you know what you need and want to express. For example, “I want us to work together to create family rules that we can both live with. Can we talk about how to start making changes?”
You may find that underneath the issue lies a deep value that you are not willing to yield on. Ask yourself: Why is this so important to me? You might be surprised with your answer.
Make a date to talk.
Yes, a date. Decide on a stress-free time that is good for both of you — not Erev Shabbos, or dinnertime or homework time, or when your kids will be nudging for your attention. Make it as relaxing and non-threatening as possible. Perhaps make his favorite dinner, or schedule an activity that you both enjoy.
Here comes the delicate part: Respectfully hear each other out. Take turns speaking and listening.
For the listener
Don’t interrupt. You’ll get your turn as soon as he feels you heard his point of view.
Show him that you are listening. Maintain eye contact, nod, and even smile (yes, I know it’s hard to do, but try anyway).
Don’t spend this time thinking of a rebuttal. You need to focus on really hearing what he has to say.
Find something that you can agree with. You don’t have to agree with everything he says, but try to find something. “You have a point” is a good pareve but validating sentence.
For the speaker
Start softly. Use “I” sentences. Speaking about your feelings and thoughts on the issue is less likely to send your spouse into defense mode.
Speak in short manageable pieces. Don’t perseverate on your point.
Be clear and specific about what you need.
And finally, thank him for his caring and support. Real hakaras hatov is a major shalom bayis booster and it pays dividends!
There’s a good chance that you’re not going to resolve this issue in one conversation. It will most likely be an ongoing conversation that can take weeks or months or even years, and will come up in different variations. But although the issue at hand may still be there, it will be easier to navigate when the two of you are on the same team.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 860)
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