Modern psychology emphasizes how important it is for parents to be on the same page when raising children. There are Torah sources for this concept, so it is not merely a contemporary view.
Mommy should never contradict Daddy, and vice versa, nor should one parent become the go-to parent when the other declares a clear no. We know these principles. And yet, as the father of three beautiful children, I face a daily struggle.
My wife, Shelly, sees the world of parenting in black and white. She represents the old view of authoritarian parenting. “You’ll do it because I said so” is her motto, and if a child disobeys, he must be reprimanded and punished.
I’m an old softie — so was my father, so I come by it honestly. My mother was warm and loving, too, but not quite as gentle as Dad. I love the way I grew up and try to follow the same path. If a child breaks a rule, I speak to him, help him understand my expectation and join him in hoping for a better result the next time. I also like using incentives to encourage the kids instead of heavy negative repercussions.
Here is one recent example of Shelly’s mothering that left me quivering.
“You hit your brother?” Shelly was appalled, and I watched her body go rigid. “Go up to your room right now!”
“But, Mom,” Adam pleaded, “the guys are waiting for me outside. We were about to play baseball in the park.”
“You should have thought of that before you raised your hand, hmm? Now get up there, now!” Her dark eyes flashed lightning as she took a threatening step toward Adam.
Casting a pleading look in my direction, Adam stomped up the stairs. My insides were in knots.
Shelly reacts wrongly in so many instances, and I worry that she’s harming the children. No, I’m not condoning physical violence among siblings. But I would have liked to discuss what happened with Adam. My hunch is that there were two sides to the story; a 7-year-old doesn’t usually lash out without reason.
I would have invited Adam to sit beside me for the following conversation.
“Adam, you must be really angry at Benny right now. Can you tell me what happened?”
“He broke the little Lego that I just put together. I worked for an hour on it, and now it’s ruined!”
“How frustrating! You worked so hard, and now it’s ruined.”
“But in our family we don’t hit. Is there another way you could have handled that?”
“I guess I could have told you or Mom.”
“Excellent. And next time I’m sure you will. I’m really sorry about the Lego. Is there any way I can help you fix it?”
With my method, the child feels validated, and he still gets the message. He knows his dad is rooting for him. With Shelly’s method, Adam feels angry and misunderstood.
I worry that he will eventually rebel against the strict rigidity of his upbringing. My goal is to build a strong relationship with my children while I guide and teach them. Honestly, I think the best way to teach them is through modeling and effective communication, not by preaching and certainly not through punishing.
A gardener is skilled in giving his plants just the right amounts of water and fertilizer. He exposes them to the appropriate measure of sunlight for their optimal growth and endeavors to protect them from harmful influences.
Should we be any less careful with our children? Don’t we want to help them grow into sturdy, strong, independent beings? And to be capable of producing rich, luscious fruits of their own?
Shelly’s a good wife, cares for my needs, and is a warm, insightful partner. But when it comes to raising our children, we speak a different language.
I’ve tried to communicate my displeasure privately, but criticism makes her angry and defensive. Sometimes I’ll leave a great parenting article in a strategic location. I don’t know if she reads it; if she does, I can’t tell. She won’t hear of going for therapy. So I’m left straddling the fence, unsure what to do.
How can I give my children a strong foundation while showing support for Shelly, even when she is wrong? Do I nurture my marriage or my children?
I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please submit responses to email@example.com by Monday, Feb. 20.