“I can’t get my husband to stop barking at the children.”
“My partner won’t listen to me or read any of the books I have asked him to.”
“My boyfriend keeps telling my son that he’s a ‘big boy now’ and I think it is hurting his confidence. How can I stop him?”
Frequently on parenting groups, we see these sorts of complaints and questions. A mother has decided on principles of interaction with her children, and the father is unwilling to follow the same path. The mother is distraught. Very often, distraught enough to be considering leaving her partner.
So, the question is, how do you get your partner on board with your parenting style?
My gut reaction—everyone’s gut reaction—is to say model the appropriate behavior. We learn better as children with modeling, and we learn better as adults with modeling. But in saying this, we leave out an important element of why people follow modeled behavior so well. They see the exact steps to take, and they see that it works.
If I wanted to learn how to make a cake, and someone modeled for me how to make a pie, I might be grateful for their effort, but I would not then follow their instructions. It was not what I wanted, so using their guidance for my ends is useless.
This is why mother’s will often say they already model and it doesn’t seem to be working. Why, oh why does he not see what I’m doing? How is he not compelled to do the same?
One option is that you have different values about what you want for your children.
More likely, you have different values about how you want to feel about how you treat your children.
I believe both parents, in most relationships, have their children’s best interest at heart. But I believe mother’s often want their relationship to be like a friendship. They want their relationship to be sweet and caring and empathetic. They are often liable to ignore the results that they are getting out of their interactions with their children, and how they are effecting their behavior. They are dedicated to certain principles and feelings, sometimes at the cost of what is actually best for the child in the long run.
If your partner sees you being a “gentle parent” towards your child, but your child is often out-of-control—both his own and yours—he is extremely unlikely to be convinced that this gentle parenting approach is for him, or really even for his child. He will not want to parent that way, and he may even begin to try to act as a counterbalance to permissiveness and lack of leadership, being harsher than he would otherwise.
And, perhaps, you seeing his harshness in response to your gentleness makes you double down and be even softer.
If I want to bake a cake and you hand me a book on how to make a pie, I am not going to read that book. It isn’t useful to me.
Feeling that we have the answers, feeling morally upright and indignant, is very appealing. Especially when you know that you’re on the right track. A half truth can sometimes be worse than a whole lie because reality will confirm that you’re doing something right.
I wholly agree that anyone who is interested in gentle parenting is gleaning some very important truths about the best way to raise children; with secure attachment, with emotional coaching, with loving care and openness. But they’re often missing leadership, another big part of the equation.
Before you try to model harder that your method is right, have a discussion about what values it is you are trying to raise your children with. From there, you can discuss why it is that he feels that your approach is lacking in accomplishing those goals.
Chances are, you will find that you both have the same values around what you want for your children. This is for two reasons. One if affiliative mating; we tend to date and breed with those who are like us.
But even more than this, it is because we generally all want the same things for our children. We want them to be emotionally healthy, able to pursue the things they want in life, for them to value their relationship with us, to be resilient, healthy. While which things you value most may differ, it is likely that the fundamental desires you have are the same.
A discussion can lead to gaining mutual respect for each other’s positions. You may even find that you give up your efforts to convert him to your ways, because you can see that there is a balance between the two of you. Perhaps being a great leader and setting boundaries isn’t your strong suit, and you can learn something from your partner. He is likely bringing something of value to the table. Maybe be will better be able to see where you’re coming from, too. Don’t go into the discussion hoping to “win” it, though.
Another possibility is that you guys can talk about what kinds of things would make a more gentle approach more appealing to him. Once you understand that you’re valuing the same things—that you don’t want to raise an impulsive, inconsiderate, unproductive person, but instead think that these ideas will lead to a strong, confident, cooperative adult—you can begin to talk about how to get where you’re both going.
It might be that your child doesn’t take directions well, and until your partner starts to see results in this area, he is not that interested. Realize that this is fair. Children aren’t meant to be slaves who simply follow orders, but they are meant to cooperate, to be led, and at a certain point, start to gain emotional control. When they can’t have emotional control, you are that calm for them.
Once you start to build the skills necessary to lead your child, maybe your husband will ask more questions about how to be authoritative. Then you modeling will be instructive for him.
But until then, until you show him how to bake a cake when what he wants is a cake, your modeling will do no good.