o two people are alike, and so it makes sense that no two married people will see eye to eye on everything. But when husbands and wives have different approaches to parenting, the conflict that results can sometimes harm their relationship. After all, parenting is a project that a couple shares forever, and with particular intensity in the first several decades together.
“My husband is very lenient with the kids, and I don’t think it’s right. First of all, he’s not helping them be raised properly. For example, if one of my kids says ‘no’ to me when I ask her to do something, I can’t discipline her for that because my husband will say, ‘Oh, she’s too tired now. Ask her to do it later. Don’t pressure her.’
When I was a child, we were never allowed to say ‘no’ to a parent. We had to ask if we could be excused from the task, not just tell our parents that we weren’t going to do it! My husband comes from a different background, where the kids just did whatever they wanted. He tells me, ‘We all turned out fine, and we love our parents. I don’t want our kids to hate us.’ ”
Imagine the daily battles between the parents in this household! The wife is not okay with her children taking charge, and the husband is not okay with the parents taking charge! Issues will arise all day, every day.
Sometimes it’s the husband who’s the “softy” and sometimes it’s the wife. Either way, the softness is usually reserved for the children. The “softy” seems to know how to say “no” to the partner!
The following wife shows how the fierce desire to protect one’s offspring can sometimes turn into an equally fierce attack on one’s own partner:
“My husband is too hard on the kids. Just this morning he was yelling at our oldest son to get out of bed, so I came into the room to help. I started off nicely, suggesting to my husband that enough was enough. But then my husband told me to stop interfering, saying that if I knew what I was doing, this boy would never be lying in bed at this hour.
“Well, that did it! I have to admit that I laced right into him, screaming that he was just making things worse and was going to ruin this child! I know I shouldn’t have spoken to him that way, but I honestly cannot take it when he yells at my kids. I’m really afraid that he’s going to destroy them.”
How ironic. This woman yells at her husband as if the man has no feelings, yet is so worried for her children when they’re yelled at. Although it’s true that adults have more resources to be able to cope with mistreatment than kids do, they’re still human. She herself was very sensitive to her husband’s unkind remarks, as any human would be. Criticism and yelling hurts people’s feelings and their relationships, whether those people are younger or older. Knowing how badly negativity hurts our kids, one would think that we’d be equally careful with our spouses who are, after all, kids too — just a bit older.
Moreover, children hate to witness parental conflict, especially when it’s about them. Helping a child by fighting with the other parent doesn’t help; it hurts.
Deal with differences
Thankfully, abusive parents are a rare breed, and while these folk must be stopped in their tracks, the average loving-but-imperfect parent can be addressed quietly and privately after a bout of poor parenting.
“Softies,” unlike abusive adults, are a more common breed. Their chronically imbalanced parenting can, in fact, cause harm to both the child and the marriage, and it does need to be addressed. Again, this is best accomplished quietly and privately — not in front of a child.
Not all parenting differences are problematic. Sometimes, they’re just differences. Spouses need to talk about their different philosophies and actively work out agreements and compromises regarding their parenting strategies. When feelings and beliefs are too strong to make easy compromises, professional help can ease the way.
The main thing to remember is that both parents care strongly about the well-being of their children and that the best way to help ensure that well-being is for them to keep their marriage strong. Caring about each other’s feelings is the best protection for the children.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 674)