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Parenting from the Same Page

One mother told Rick: I think Angelina, our four-year-old, should watch only an hour of TV per day. My husband mumbles, "Okay, honey," but when I leave the house I come back to see her glued to the tube. It's not just TV. I say no sweets, he says just a couple. I say no spanking, he thinks a swat is okay. I say bed by eight, but that means I've got to do it. I read books about parenting and he reads the sports section of the paper. I'm afraid we are confusing our daughter, plus driving each other crazy.

It's hard to get on the same page, since parents often have different values in child rearing, and issues of who gets to be right or in charge muddy the water. Yet children get confused when their parents have different approaches, and they're more likely to play one parent against the other: But Dad said I could! And it is disheartening when your partner approaches the most important undertaking of your life in a way that seems wrongheaded or cavalier.

Minor differences in parenting style are all right. Besides helping children prepare for a variety of teachers and (eventually) bosses, complementary approaches can build on each other, like Mom being more of a tender owie-kisser and Dad an exuberant horsieback-ride-giver, so kids get the best of both worlds. But major differences in parenting values or actions are a problem. To solve it, the first step is to pin down exactly what they are, so we suggest you take a moment to fill out this questionnaire.

Taking Steps Yourself
While it may seem unfair to be the one who makes the first move, trying to be a better partner yourself will evoke positive behavior from your husband, reduce his reasons for being irked with you, and, if nothing else, let you stand on principle if he is dragging his feet. And there will be a better result when you and he take steps together.... Here's a buffet of options, focused on the common situations of a somewhat disengaged father, or one whose parenting style differs in some ways from his wife's.

Have confidence in his fundamental ability to be a parent. Hundreds of studies have shown that a father is just as able to parent with love and skill as a mother. For example, when babies cry, the typical father gets just as upset inside as his wife does, and just as relieved when the baby settles.

Encourage him. Try to be encouraging (though not patronizing) if he is learning a new skill. Suppose he feels awkward holding a little baby: reassure him that he's doing fine, and perhaps disclose ways you, too, have felt a little klutzy.

Acknowledge him. Admit it when his way worked, even though it was different from yours, or when you learned something from him. Emphasize what you appreciate about his parenting, rather than what you wish were different. See the strengths in his approach and understand the values it is based on.

Let him learn. Let him be the one who handles a tantrum from start to finish, or who tries to get a child to eat some carrots. Occasionally direct the kids to him for things you normally provide, so he gains more experience with those parts of child rearing. If you can, arrange for him to spend extended times alone with your children, such as an entire evening from dinner to bedtime, or better yet, a full day or two while you go on a business trip or (best of all) take a mini-vacation.


From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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