Category Archives: gentle parenting

Attention Isn’t a Reward

Connection

I don’t even know if I have the capacity for normal emotions or not because I haven’t cried for a long time. You just stifle them for so long that maybe you lose them, partially at least.”

That is a punch to the gut for anyone who feels like they have to hide their emotions or “true self.” Science continues to affirm that concealing your emotions is destructive. Dismissing our feelings makes us less able to maintain our sense of well-being. Our inner, ignored swamps create a distance between us and those we love.

Time does not heal all wounds; connection does. When someone you care for struggles with their feelings, you reach out a helping hand. Sometimes pain comes in the form of destructive behavior—as a society, we recognize this. We acknowledge that addiction indicates alienation and that the most aggressive among us are hurting.
So why do we admonish people for giving their children attention when they are having a hard time?

What are Rewards?

You shouldn’t reward behavior like that.”

If you pay attention to him, he will just keep doing it.”

Paying attention to someone isn’t a reward. Loving someone isn’t a reward. Love is an automatic reaction. We should not pretend to turn it on and off as a means to manipulate.

Are you a good person or bad person for feeling sad?

Are you an upright citizen or dreg for feeling anxious?

Does your regret make you admirable or awful?

These are of course ridiculous questions.

Rewards are something that you get for doing something good. Punishments are for doing something bad. Emotions are not on a moral spectrum.
Labeling feelings as negative or positive is destructive. Learning to accept a wide range of emotions contributes to our ability to self-regulate, an important life skill which you are teaching your child how to do (or not to do) now. When your child makes bids for your attention, that is an opportunity for you to coach them through their feelings.

Attention

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It is easy for us to forget in today’s society what attention actually is. It is even easier to forget as adults because we feel and believe that we “take care of ourselves.”

Attention is our lifeline. Without the attention of others—in our evolutionary past and today—we either die or simply survive. In harsh environments, ostracism is used as an extreme punishment because we are social mammals; being ignored by your community is a threat of death and not an idle one.

Our attention and love are not rewards for our children. Once we recognize belonging as a fundamental human need, we can let go of the fear that we are rationing it incorrectly. You wouldn’t take away air, water, or food from your child as a punishment for their bad behavior. You shouldn’t take away your love.

Wanting attention is a legitimate need. If you find yourself thinking that the desire for attention is something that needs to be fixed in yourself, reflect on this belief, where you got it, and how to fix it. As trendy as pathologizing basic human desires and behaviors is, your family will benefit if you resist the urge.

Overwhelm

In the name of authenticity, we should admit that we want to show our love for our children when they break down. Breaking down can be palatable—the shuddering of shoulders, the “blue zone” that Dr. Siegel talks about where our children clam up and avoid eye contact. Or it can be the dreaded “red zone—the tantrum, yelling, crying, screaming that everyone seems to think they will be able to avoid because they will parent right.

Both of these are normal human reactions to being overwhelmed. Children feel overcome with emotion more often and more easily and have outbursts to match.

What should you do when your child is having a tantrum? You don’t need to tell them that their behavior is great. You certainly don’t need to actually reward the behavior with ice cream and toys. You don’t need to help them quickly get over the emotion. Stop harmful and destructive behavior (physically, if you need to), and just be with them. You don’t want to be alone in your tough emotions. Neither do they.

All behavior is communication. Sometimes that behavior is communicating, “I need your help to stop. I feel out of control.”

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The Quote

The quote at the top was made by a really famous guy. Jeffrey Dahmer.
I’m not saying that your child is going to cannibalize people if you ignore their emotions. They could grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. They may learn how to regulate their emotions.
You are your child’s emotional coach. What are you teaching them?

Please share this post if you enjoyed it! Comment below: How do you handle your children’s tough emotions?

babies are people

Babies Are People

Because they don’t talk. Because we support them. Because they need so much. Because we are all they have.

It is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to remember that our babies are people too. They have their own needs, wants, and struggles.

Difficult Times

My partner experienced this recently when he kindly offered to take our four-month-old son for a while so could relax.

Our four-month-old sleep-regression-and-developmental-leap-having son.

He was not the easiest he has ever been.

My boyfriend remarked in his wisdom that he could see how people sometimes forget that babies are people.

My boyfriend, obviously, is not alone in this. We had spoken about it. I have had that feeling. We all have that feeling.

Little Baby “Thoughts”

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While we’ll never know exactly what babies think—although that’s not quite the right word—I try to put myself in their shoes. I try to think of having a pain and not knowing how to resolve it. I try to think of being alone and not knowing if I’ll ever see anyone again. I try to think of needing help, and the people I care for most withholding.

Of course, my son’s thoughts are nowhere close to this coherent. Babies are people, too, but he has just come out of creature mode. He is just waking up to the world. His emotional system is just coming online, and he can begin to respond with reactions other than fight, flight, freeze or faint.

But even without the cognition, the important thing is there. The feelings are there.

And to me, they sound very difficult and very frustrating.

No Theory of Mind

I try not to go in the other direction, either. There are people who prescribe far more cognitive abilities to children than they have. I probably tend on this side, though I can usually catch myself.

Infants don’t have a theory of mind—they don’t know that you’re making choices and thinking thoughts different and independent from theirs. They don’t understand your motivations.

When my son is uncomfortable or in pain, I sometimes wonder if he is thinking, “Why won’t you just solve this? You’re so big, so strong. You can do so much. Please make this pain stop.”

But he doesn’t think that. He just feels: “I don’t want this!”

As he ages, he may start assigning blame. It will have to do with his temperament, and the sort of culture we set up in our household. Whether he blames me, himself, the world, or realizes that there is no need to sign blame, our ideas and attitudes towards are discomfort are going to have some effect on him.

Being Present

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But for now, my goal is just to remember that he is a person. He is not an inanimate objects that I can force my desires on, and he is not a full grown adult prescribing malintent. He’s neither a manipulative psychopath trying to pull from me every resource that I have nor plant requiring just a bit of water and a touch of sun.

All that I can do is respond consistently to his cues. This doesn’t mean perfectly, and this doesn’t mean immediately. It means recognizing that he is trying to communicate his needs and wants to me and responding to them sensitively.

Sometimes, he will cry while he is in my arms, but if he is with me, he will be fine. And if I can see him and stay with him there without demanding he feel some other way, then I will, too.

 

SAVERS and CHARMS

Each morning for several months now, I perform my SAVERS.

This is an acronym created by Hal Elrod that spells out things you need to do in your routine each morning to be at your best—to have your Best Day Ever. I have spoken about Hal Elrod on this blog before. I really enjoy his energy, and find his podcasts interesting. He has guests on to discuss family and business life.

I am a strong believer that a lot of work that applies to business and leadership also applies to the family.

SAVERS Stands For:

S- Silence: Sitting in prayer or meditation

A – Affirmations: Stating your goals and knowing you can accomplish them

V- Visualization: Visualizing the path to success

E- Exercise: This one is pretty self-explanatory

R – Reading: Take a glance at some kind of self-help or self-development book or article

S- Scribing: A word used for writing, because SAVERW didn’t look as good. This usually means journaling.

I think the way that visualizations and affirmations are done in this routine are far better than any I have heard of before. Visualization should not just be the end goal, but the process of getting there. Affirmations should not be passive–”Money flow to me”–and they should not lie–”I am rich.” Instead, they should be goals, with details on how to reach them, and the confidence that you can.

My TMM

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For instance, one of my morning affirmations is:

“I am worthy and capable of creating the life that I want. I have all the tools that I need to be an excellent mother. I will respond sensitively to my son’s cues. I will raise him to have balance, resistance, insight, and compassion. I will do this by helping him to identify his emotions in his body, helping him see them in others. I will be an emotional coach. I will create a secure attachment. I will be the calm in his storm.”

I have others for being an excellent partner, making friends, being a blogger, being fit, creating a warm home environment, etc.

On an ideal day, I do 20 minutes of yoga each day, followed by visualizations and affirmations. Then I do 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. I do a bit of gratitude journaling, and then write my daily goals and evaluate the previous day’s successes and shortcomings. a few minutes of gratitude journaling. I usually read a parenting, self-development, or entrepreneurship book.

Some days are less perfect. I wake up tired and feeling lousy. I put my son on my chest and do 5 minutes of loving-kindness meditation so I can forgive myself. I get up and stretch. I close my eyes while I picture my future, and say my most important affirmation—the one about being a mother. I read one page of a book, write down 3 things I’m grateful for, and get started with my day.

Some days are completely wonky and it takes me all day to finish my mourning routine.

Difficulties and Energy

It is hard for me to overstate how much better my life feels since I began doing this. I love having made a habit of it, and I have more energy each day. I started while I was 38 weeks pregnant because my energy levels were quickly declining, and I was so pleased with the results that.

Since then, I started my blog, have lost all of my pregnancy weight and more (four-month postpartum), made friends with new people—which I had avoided doing for the year previous in my new location—and began freelance writing.

I have remained calm and energized through all of the struggles of new parenting. My son is on his four-month sleep regression, so I haven’t slept for more than two hours straight for over three weeks. But I feel fine.

Right after I finished doing the laundry, he pooped on the bed when I was changing him. I could breathe.

He wants mom and mom alone, all of the time right now. I can appreciate this short season of his life—even if it is sometimes a bit exhausting!

This is everything I wanted out of parenting, and I give partial credit to The Miracle Morning.

CHARMS

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TMM has many spin-offs to help different people in different areas of their lives, whether it is writers, entrepreneurs, or millionaires. Lindsay McCarthy created The Miracle Morning For Parents and Families

In it, she details a miracle morning routine more suited to children. Her daughter was three and her son was seven when they started the routines. Some people say that they have started with their two-year-olds.

Instead of the SAVERS, though, children perform CHARMS.

CHARMS stands for:

C – Creativity: Let your children engage each morning in some kind of creative activity. Whether that is drawing, painting, or playing instruments.

H – Health: This includes exercise, with an emphasis on diet. I think this HIIT workout for children is a great way to teach them exercise. Exercise and diet both contribute to our well being and ability to regulate emotions.

A – Affirmations: A child doesn’t have to be as specific in their goals. Help them think of ways that they like to be. “I am going to be helpful today by cleaning toys up with my sister,” or “I am going to be brave today by trying a new thing.”

R – Reading: Reading as a family is an amazing experience and one that is highly correlated with academic success. Try to carve out some time to read as a family. Older children may enjoy reading by themselves.

M – Meditation: This combines visualizations and silence. Some children might enjoy sitting and meditation. But many will not. Consider telling your children a calming story while they keep their eyes closed and picture it. Listen to the Peace Out podcast if you aren’t much of a storyteller yourself.

S – Service: Be of service to others. This could be doing chores (which Lindsay calls Family Contributions) or any other way your children or you can come up with that involves meeting the needs and desires of others.

You need to make this fun for your children, not a chore. Playfulness keeps children interested. It is also their primary way of learning, especially under seven-years-old. It can’t be something that mom and dad force on their kids.

The SAVERS and CHARMS will set you and your children up for The Best Day Ever so that you can have The Best Lives Ever.

Expectations

 

Your biggest problem is your expectations.

When you go out and you discover a flat tire on your car so you can’t go to see grandma and AAA won’t make it there for two hours and your husband isn’t answering his phone and the kids are crying, it feels miserable. And it is definitely not your optimal outcome for any particular day, but there is nothing wrong or inherently bad about the situation.

Your husband shouldn’t have had the phone on.

You shouldn’t always have access to help.

Your kids shouldn’t be happy about the situation.

Your tire shouldn’t be full of air.

All of these things can be in any state without anything being wrong, even all at once.

You’ve just drawn a line in the sand about how your day should go, and when it wasn’t that way, you decided that there was something wrong with the world.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

This isn’t about being a boyscout. You’ll be fine if you run out of a good. You can run to the store, call to someone to get it, or order it on Prime if you have a day or two. Some situations are of course far more inconvenient if you don’t have a particular thing on hand—but this isn’t our real problem.

Very few of our real our problems, our big problems, our Pareto principle problems, actually come from whether or not we have immediate access to a piece of fruit or even a diaper. It may suck to clean up poopy pants or a poopy car seat, but it isn’t going to kill you.

What is going to make today worse, and all of your days worse, is if you expect to not have to deal with problems like this, and you end up having to.

The Real Enemy

Expectations are the real enemy.

Not just in every day nuisances like lacking an ingredient you thought you had, but in your relationship with your child.

And your partner.

And yourself.

In believing that you or your son or your daughter or your partner should be something other than they are, you create an unwinnable.

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you lose the chance to the admire the beauty in its swim.

“Age-Appropriate” Expectations

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There was a popular infographic going around talking about the cognitive capacities of children, when it becomes appropriate to expect things from them. I think that the effort of this infographic was noble—reducing the frustration that parents feel with their children when they have unreasonable expectations. But I feel that it also had two implicit messages that I have a harder time supporting:

  1. Expecting it: If you have an idea that someone “should” be able to do something, you will get annoyed with the fact that they aren’t doing it. If it is backed by “science”, the backlash is even worse. Parents feel not only put out by their child’s behavior, but might begin to believe there is something wrong with them.

    Milestone-mania is already rampant, and there is no need to double down on that sneaking sense of paranoia in an attempt to allay anger.

  2. Reducing Agency: One thing that happens when we decide what people “should” and “shouldn’t” be able to do is stop attempting to get them to grasp concepts or build the tools to head in that direction. This is called the tyranny of low expectations. It is essentially writing someone off and letting them pay the consequences.

More useful than developing suitable expectations is having none, but to give your children the support and skills that they need to develop and strengthen their capacities.

It’s not as if, on their fourth birthday, all or even more kids have impulse control. It’s not as if most adults have even worked that muscle particularly hard.

What is happening is a slow progression to have more emotional control—a completely unpredictable path that will move backwards and forwards more time than anyone could possibly count. A path that your child will continue to walk through toddlerhood, teenagerdom, and well into adulthood. Skills and abilities that you thought they had will seemingly fade overnight, and that they should be able to do these things—according to science!–isn’t going to help you or your child get anywhere.

Try This Instead

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Let’s go back to that day in the car.

You have a lot of other options, outside of disappointment. Give yourself five minutes to feel those feelings, then move on.

Check what your options are to carry out your original plan: Consider an Uber, see if grandma can come over, or someone can pick you up.

Or just go inside, tell grandma sorry, and have a different day from the one you were planning.

If you didn’t have that plan, how would the day have gone? How would you feel if those things didn’t happen on a day you didn’t mean for them to happen?

We can’t always have such peace and clarity, but working on lassoing in our expectations bit by bit, we can stop trying to handle disappointment, and instead just go about with our days.

Family Board Meeting

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There’s a well-known rule in the business world and in economics called the Pareto Principle—the 80/20 rule. It means that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort.

This is something that is hard to integrate into our daily lives. It is easy to believe that all of our marginal decisions and extra efforts are making a difference.

But this is a lie.

Too Close To Call

In fact, there are only a few things that we do in any arena of life that are getting us results.

We stress and strain over minor decisions and actions that don’t matter much. We spend time trying to figure out whether this or that is the best. It’s so close–too close to call. What if you make the wrong decision?

It won’t be the wrong decision.

Most of the time, it will be an inconsequential decision.

Get clear, in each part of your life, on the 20% of things that you are getting the most of your results from. Think about this in terms of your relationships, as well as your work life. Think of it in terms of your exercise. Think of it in terms of you diet. Think of it in terms of your routines.

With our children, there is an effective strategy to employ that will get us big results.

It will matter much more than which gift you get them, how many mortgages you pay, or the time spent lounging together.

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Family Board Meeting

That is the family board meeting strategy. It’s a concept in the book of the same name by Jim Sheils.

Here’s the main idea:

In the business world, there are board meetings that are conducted quarterly—once every three months. Everyone connects with each other, often face to face, to see where all lines are leading and to make sure they’re going in the same direction.

Have a board meeting with each member of your family, every three months.

Here are a few guidelines:

1) One-on-one: Every three months. This is possible, no matter the size of your family. Being paid attention to, without any distractions, creates a different kind of bond—one that allows each person to feel seen.

2) No technology: No distracting people, no distracting things. Playing video games and watching TV together may have its place, but this is about paying attention to each other.

That is impossible if mom, dad, daughter, or son are checking their phone every few minutes.

3) Four-Hours: Once a quarter, for each family member.

As the author of this book often reminds people, you only have eighteen summers with your children.

When we get together, we need to decompress before we can do things shoulder-to-shoulder in a truly connected way.

4) Freedom: Try to give as much freedom as possible to your children in deciding what to do. There are limits to what is possible, but take their preferences into heavy consideration.

Eighteen Summers

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Eighteen summers. Then they’re adults, and they can decide how much they want to see you.

How are you going to use that time?

What sorts of things do you think will build a loving, trusting relationship that keeps them interested and engaged with you now, and long into the future? Are you doing those things? Or are you hoping that all the tiny things that you do, the unseen things, the lower 80% things, will add up to the big results you’re hoping for?

Having routines and rhythms in our lives is one of the best things that we can do for ourselves. It allows us to be more mindful. It allows us to schedule our priorities, rather than bumble through and hope we get to them.

Keeping the Pareto principle in mind will help you be a productive, focused person, rather than a busy one. It will allow you to stop worrying if you make the right, tiny decisions, because you’re making big, intentional ones with results.

Consistency is NOT Key

children-817365_960_720.jpgConsistency is not key.

It is a common refrain among parenting coaches and educators that one of the most important things that you can do for your children is being consistent.

Which forces us to ask what the benefits of consistency are.

Consistently responding sensitively to your child’s needs creates a secure attachment.

For children and adults, there is a real upside to having routines and schedules. It allows us to be centered and mindful.

But consistency for the sake of consistency is garbage. Things for the sake of themselves often are.

What if you told your kid no ice cream, then thought about it, and you realized it really wasn’t an issue with you? What if you were angry in a moment, and disciplined your child—and then realized that it was disproportionate or useless?

There are many times when not being consistent is extremely important. Saying, “I’m sorry” means that you’ve changed your mind, or your behavior, or your attitude towards something. You in the present and you in the past do not agree on how to handle something.

Change isn’t always a good thing; but we have to be willing to change our minds. With new information comes new possibilities. With new energy comes new alleyways to discover. With new surroundings comes new structures.

What we create constantly gets knocked down, and that includes ourselves. The principle of non-self (anatta) tells us not to hold onto an idea of a solid, unchanging self because it is a lie. If anatta truly does reflect reality—and I very strongly believe it does—then to be totally consistent overtime is impossible.

One reason people think consistency is so important is because they think children are less intelligent and flexible then they are.

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When I was a kindergarten teacher, I would let my students jump up and down on my stomach. It was very fun for the all of us, and I like to make kids feel big and powerful. The owner of the kindergarten asked me not to do it because she was afraid that they would think it is okay to do with other teachers.

I talked to her about all of the different ways that the different teachers run their classrooms. About how I teach letters this way, but Teacher Ryan taught his this way. About how I played these games and Teacher Claire played those games. About how I let my kids scream, and Teacher Sean always liked his classrooms quiet.

We shared students, and of course, the children had no problem switching from one situation to another. They didn’t get confused with the different English speaking accents.

I asked the students: Who it was okay to jump on? They screamed, “Teacher Amelia.”

As excited as I could, I said, “Can we jump on Teacher Ryan?” and the kids laughed and laughed and said “No!”

“Can we teach on Teacher Claire?”

“Hahaha, no!”

These were 3 and 4 year olds, and we were talking in their second language. They were not confused at all that different people want different things, and that even different times required different behaviors.

If I came in feeling unwell one day, the kids did not feel uneasy when I said, “We have to be quiet today because Teacher is feeling sick. We won’t play many games.” Did they require a reminder or two?

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Sure, of course.

But it didn’t make them fundamentally distrust me, or feel confused about our relationship, or feel that the rug had been pulled out under their feet.

There are ways in which consistency benefits children. Again: responding sensitively to their cues, and having some semblance of a schedule so that they aren’t all over the place. Having an attachment figure, of course.

But children are very smart and adaptable. They start gaining the ability to empathize very young, and they live in an ever changing world. They are humans. Human are excellent generalists. We are amazing at building tools and finding ways to adapt to a variety of situations. We know how to reorient ourselves to new people, new rules, and new cultures.

The concept of consistency is important in a few domains. But in most, it is not. Not only do our moods change over time, but so do our values. What our children are capable of is constantly changing, and if you’re sensitive to their development, you will open up new doors for them at every opportunity. Today’s “No, it is too dangerous,” often can and should be Tomorrow’s “Yes, please give it a try.”

How To Get Your Partner to Parent the Same

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.