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Parenting from the Same Page

When there's a meeting with the pediatrician or a teacher, do what you can to have your husband come, such as saying that the person wants to talk with both parents. When you're there, try to have roughly half of the conversation be with your husband. For example, if the professional asks a question, you can remain silent, or smile at him and ask, "What do you think?"

Let him experience the consequences of his actions, so he can see for himself why you do things differently. For example, if he wants to play roughhouse with the kids just before bed, tell him he can settle them down for sleep.

Try not intervening in situations where you normally step in (unless something truly abusive is occurring), and see what happens instead. Things may turn out better than you feared, or perhaps your husband will see from his own experience that he needs to take another approach.

Understand the whole picture before you jump in. Be aware of how your emotions, beliefs, or previous experiences can make a situation look worse than it really is. A father once told Jan: Our five-year-old son, Pete, whines and gets upset real easily. If we roughhouse, he gets mad over nothing, and then my wife, Joanie, comes in and yells at me. We were playing basketball in the backyard one day, and I was letting him win and he was happy. Then he missed a shot, and I got the ball for my turn. But he wanted the ball. I explained it was my turn, but he started to cry. Joanie heard him and ran outside, glared at me, and said really nastily, "Can't you ever play without making him cry??!" But I didn't do anything! First she tells me I don't do enough with him, and then she's mad at me when I do. She's always watching, ready to pounce for the least thing. Again, try to get the full story before you react.

Don't micro-manage. Try not to be controlling, dogmatic, or self-righteous about small matters. That way, you'll be more credible when you discuss the big ones, and your partner will probably feel less defensive. Many disputes about parenting are inherently minor: if he puts an orange top and purple pants on your preschooler, maybe you should just smile to yourself and let it go. Every time you argue with him about how he parents, there's an emotional cost for each of you, plus it discourages his involvement. Sometimes the issue is worth the price, but often it's not.

Get a reality check on the actual seriousness of your differences by being clear about the facts: how much TV does he actually let the kids watch, how many times a night does he speak in a scolding tone, how often does he let your child stay up past her bedtime? Find out whether he is acting within the normal range of child rearing or is over the line by finding out what other families do, reading books, taking a parent education class, asking your pediatrician, or getting a consultation with a child development specialist.

Be respectful. When you do offer suggestions, be respectful and specific. Give a positive idea of what he could do rather than what he should not do, like saying It's been working for me to change Emma's diaper with that little music box going instead of This time, try not to make her cry. If you can, filter out any implicit criticisms or commands in what you say.

If he offers a suggestion or criticism to you, try to be a model of how you'd like him to react when he's on the receiving end. Make sure you understand his idea. Next, join with him as much as you can: offer empathy, acknowledge the problem he's identified, agree with the positive aims behind his idea, and say how it could in fact be useful. Then share your concerns, if you have any. Finally, offer a specific suggestion about what happens from here, ranging from maintaining your approach to agreeing to his idea, or some kind of compromise in between.


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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