Ah, parenting. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more complex, you realise your other half sees things differently.
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When I was pregnant, I envisioned how I would be as a mother, and how my children would be. I anticipated a whole range of problems I might face as a parent: financial troubles whilst on maternity leave, behaviour issues as my son grew, lack of sleep… and I felt comfortably prepared to tackle whatever was thrown at me with all my best efforts. But, I never considered that a massive stressor in my day to day parenting would not come from my children, but instead from my husband.
This is something I have been through not once, but twice. My first husband had polar opposite views to me on the role of a parent, which were sadly not apparent until my first son was born (probably my naivety, with hindsight). The birth of my son was in all honesty the nail in the coffin of our relationship: he didn’t believe that a man had responsibility for anything to do with raising young children, and he would not care for our son if I left the room, changing a grand total of 5 nappies in the first year of our sons life. At the time, I was so loved up with my new baby that I didn’t force him, and I did everything myself, although it certainly caused a great deal of stress and resentment to build within me. It also quickly became apparent that he did not share my gentle parenting style, frequently shouting at our crawling baby for touching his things, believing he needed ‘punishing’. Our views were so extremely opposite on the right way to handle things, that we argued frequently. We eventually split up a few days after my son’s first birthday.
Fast forward to a while later, when I met my second husband. At this point, I was so scarred from my first experience I was strongly considering not having anymore children, even though I had always wanted more than one child. This caused me to be very cautious of my son’s interactions with my new love interest, and I am ashamed to admit that I was looking for any little indicator of bad parenting so I could run a mile… thankfully though, I rarely found it. My now husband melted my heart with his love for my son, and how he treated him as his own flesh and blood – and I finally relaxed. A few years down the line, we started planning our own child, and were blessed with twins. I was happy to find that he was incredibly hands on, just as I had expected him to be, and thankfully it was nothing like my first experience.
For the most part, I must admit that we are on the same page as parents, and share parental duties fairly. However despite this, we still have many disagreements over how certain issues should be tackled. One of our main points of contention is shouting – he is naturally a shouter, who believes children should do as they’re told because their parent has asked them to, where as I am strongly against shouting, and spend time explaining why children should or shouldn’t do something. I am lucky that my husband generally trusts my experience and advice on how to approach things, and will listen to reason and reflect on his actions, but it still causes tension on occasion when we disagree.
If you are in the situation where your views on child rearing differ from those of your significant other, I really feel for you. It is a very difficult situation for everyone involved, but especially the children. It can be quite confusing for children if they are experiencing different boundaries and rules at different times, and can cause them to display challenging behaviour as a result. I genuinely hate the idea of parents going through what I have been through, so I thought I would use my experience and reflection to try to support you through this. Here are some of the important things I have concluded:
Communication is everything. Honestly, I cannot overstate this fact. In hindsight, if I had talked truly open and honestly with my first husband about our views on parenting before we had our son, maybe we could have ironed out some of our issues before bringing a baby into the world (note: I regret nothing, as I have my beautiful boy). But this is important not just before having children, but during pregnancy, and throughout your kids lives – as your children grow and develop, your issues will also evolve. You must be honest about the things you are struggling with, not only with your partner but with yourself. Approaching your partner with your issues can sometimes be hard, and you have to be prepared to try and see things from their perspective too. The more open you are to discussion, the easier it will be to find a middle ground with your partner.
Be prepared to reflect on your core belief system on raising children. Why do you believe the way you want to do things is the right way? What has caused you to get to this point? We all have baggage from our own childhoods and experiences, and sometimes, this unintentionally clouds our judgement with our own children. I strongly believe it is important to really evaluate your strong beliefs as a partnership, and consider these in line with your vision of how you want your children to grow and develop.
Educate yourself on current understanding of child development. Having scientific research in front of you, or some kind of strong guidance from a credible expert, can really support your argument for why or how something should be done. Understanding how children grow and what supports their healthy development will mean you are more likely to make educated choices on how to effectively support your child, and it can be hard for your spouse to disagree with the cold, hard facts when they are in front of them. This works for anything child raising related, from child sleep routines to behaviour management techniques. I recommend this straightforward and easy to read book on child development which is aimed at parents.
Be prepared to accept you may be wrong. Sometimes, your way is the wrong way – sorry, but we all make mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you realise after 1 minute or one year, the important thing is to take action to change, and apologise to your significant other if you have made things difficult for them.
If you children are old enough, gain their opinions. I absolutely don’t mean dragging the kids into in the middle of a heated argument to get them to side with you over something you are your other half are arguing about. What I do mean though, is ask them how they feel when a particular situation occurs, for example, when people shout. Their response will tell you exactly what they think, and will provide you and your significant other with plenty to talk about.
Seek outside opinion. This could be from a trusted neutral friend or relative, a counsellor or an online parents forum – it doesn’t really matter who, as long as they will give you a fair and unbiased opinion. This can help you to really consider your disagreements in context, with a wider range of views.
Back up your partner in the moment, wherever possible. Or at the very least, don’t contradict them in the heat of the moment. For me personally, this point is possibly the hardest of all the points on my list, as I find it incredibly hard to sit back and watch my partner do something I strongly believe is the wrong move for our kids. However, I also realise that arguing in the moment only harms our children and our relationship – it is so much better for our long term outcomes to have a quiet chat afterwards, away from the children. There is always the option to apologise to the children after if the wrong move was made, and I believe this offers a positive example of a role model to a child.
These are just my humble reflections – I am not a family therapist. But, I do hope they help you if you find it difficult to see eye to eye with your partner sometimes.
Stay strong and keep being the best parent you can be,
Love, Heather x