Do you ever feel like telling (as in yelling at) your partner something like this:
“STOP! How (the fuck) can you talk to her like that?
She’s just a kid? What’s wrong with you?”
If so, you’re not alone. A bunch of readers have written in lately with questions like these:
“What kind of advice do you have to give if the hubby is not quite on the same page as all of this positive parenting?”
“Currently struggling with different parenting styles with my husband—can you help?”
Sometimes the rifts different approaches to parenting can create are small. Sometimes they can break up a marriage.
Two parents parenting roughly the same way is a tall order.
While it is a fairly common feeling for someone to want to parent their kids in a different way than the way they were parented, actually bringing this about is much harder than most people can imagine because:
1) The way we were treated as children actually wired our brains in a particular way (experience creates neural pathways) which means when something happens—like our kid throws a toy at us— we feel compelled to respond in a particular way. Many confuse this impulse (to admonish) with some kind of biological parenting instinct. It’s not. It’s just the result of the way we were parented. Therefore, to not respond to our kids in the way our parents responded to us, takes enormous amounts of impulse control. (Just the very thing we get mad at our kids for not having.) We have to exert our free will. We have to talk ourselves down off a ledge. And we have to not care what the judging eyes of friends, parents and others think.
Another reason it’s so hard to make changes in the way we parent is because
2) Yelling at kids, threatening to take away privileges and punishing them for “bad” behavior is the main way adults in our culture get kids to do what we want them to. It is so firmly entrenched that many can’t help but think of it as normal. Which it is not. To break free from this disrespectful, oppressive way of treating our children requires a shift in thinking. In order for this shift to happen, one has to first be exposed to another way of parenting either via a talk, an article, an film or witnessing an experience that resonates deeply. A light bulb has to go off. (Last night I learned from Marianne Williamson that the line from Amazing Grace “I was blind, but now I see.” is from the point of view of a slave trader. On a dime, he had a shift. He was blind. Then he saw. The old him who thought slavery was okay, was gone. Something preceded his shift. I wonder what it was!) So before we can change our parenting, one has to be exposed to something that somehow penetrates and instructs. The odds this can happen, depending on where you live and the social circle you run in, can seem like a miracle. But it is happening all day, everyday. And the internet, I think, is one of our greatest resources. (I’m hearing from people all over the world who have had shifts in their thinking, but feel rather alone in their thinking where they live. Their only real parenting community is online.)
The third reason I can think of as to why it’s so hard to expect our spouse to have a shift in thinking is because
3) Subconsciously, we, as human beings, so desperately want to reassure ourselves that our parents truly loved us,we justify the less than “life-serving” ways they treated us by treating our kids the same way. We turned out okay! (as in okayish). And our parents loved us, so yelling at our kids, spanking them, humiliating them must be loving. It must be the right way.
The resistance to change that is built into the human condition is staggering.
But John and I, we got lucky.
Before we became parents, in fact before we even got married, we’d already spent three long, painful years in couples therapy so we knew that changing the way we respond to and communicate with each other takes both real work and is incredibly rewarding.
Then, when I was pregnant, based on the recommendation of a couple of friends, John called the RIE Center to say we were interested in taking one of their parent-infant classes. Whomever he spoke with, told him that we should go to their orientation night and then call back when we had our baby so she could put us on a list. Then, as soon as they had enough people to form a class, they’d let us know when it would be.
In the meantime, at the orientation we watched SEEING INFANTS WITH NEW EYES. Without a doubt, it cracked open our brains and allowed some new light in. This film was my shift. I highly recommend it as in, super highly.
Then we got really really lucky.
We were were assigned a Saturday morning class which means we both could attend. Which means we were introduced to RIE at the same time. We both started on this new path together. Certainly we digested the information in our own ways and at our own rates. And yes, there were plenty of times when I “corrected” John which of course did little more than to piss him off. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t want to hear my thoughts, but more that he didn’t want to feel like every time he was picking up our daughter I was watching him like a hawk to see if he was doing it “right.”
Was he telling her first? Did he wait for some kind of sign from her that she was ready to be picked up. Was he her spine enough so that she felt entirely supported?
To be honest, I could nic pit the shit out of him.
But thanks to him lovingly telling me to back the fuck off, I learned not to.
And the truth is, there were plenty of things he could remind me about. But we had a common language. And a shared belief system. And that was the gift.
So, my heart goes out to the people who have written to me asking for advice on how to deal with a spouse who doesn’t “get it.”
My stabs at some recommendations have been something like:
1. START SLOWLY AND GENTLY AND EVEN NON-CHALANTLY
E-mail an article or blog. But carefully choose it. You know your partner. Would he respond to something funny? Or to research? Perhaps from a neuroscientist? Or the struggle that another dad went through? Perhaps something written by a quarterback? Really try to find something that s/he might truly relate to. And then send it with a short note that isn’t particularly threatening or accusatory. Perhaps something like ‘Hey honey, I thought you might get something out of this.
2. DON’T CORRECT IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE
No one, likes to be told to treat their kids more respectfully by being disrespected in front of a group of people. It’s humiliating. It ignites rage and resentment. Definitely save it for a time when things are copecetic.
3. SHARE YOUR CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES WITH YOUR SPOUSE
“Honey, since we’ve started to raise our child, I ‘ve been thinking a lot about how I was raised. My mom would say this….My dad would say this…. It would make me feel like this. I don’t want to do that to our kids. If you see me slipping, will you help remind me? What I want to do instead is this…what do you think?”
4. TAKE A CLASS TOGETHER IF AT ALL POSSIBLE
So those are my thoughts. What are yours?
How did your shift in thinking happen?
Was it slow? Or did something hit you like that ton of bricks everyone is always talking about? Who introduced you to what? Was it an article? A conversation? A therapist? A class?
I have no doubt that your answers (with some specific links please!) will help some other parents struggling with this issue. It would be a real gift.
A big thank you in advance for sharing.