Recap: Two parents, two vastly different childrearing methods. Mom is tough and authoritarian, while Dad favors a gentler approach. Dad wonders how to balance his obligations toward his wife vs. his children: To whom does he show support?
Nurture Marriage, Kids
Your children are fortunate to have such a caring father. As a veteran parent, I contend that the answer to your dilemma lies embedded within the poignant question at the end of your letter: “Do I nurture my marriage or my children?” Your answer is to do both.
It is beneficial for yourself and the children that you nurture your marriage. As you mentioned, spousal conflict will create a pernicious atmosphere for children.
What is a father to do? You clearly feel that your wife’s authoritarian discipline is unhealthy, even harmful. So pick your battles.
If your wife doles out an occasional sharp reaction, swallow it. Your child is resilient and will benefit more from two parents getting along. Perhaps you can be the Band-Aid at a later point, when Shelly isn’t around. You don’t want her to feel you’re taking on the role of Mr. Kind and leaving the hard stuff in her court.
Perhaps your conversation with your son could look something like this:
“Mommy screamed at me,” Adam sniffs, “and it wasn’t my fault. She hates me. She’s always so mean.”
“You felt that what happened wasn’t your fault, and you got punished for no reason,” you reply. “That’s rough. I’m so sorry.”
That might be all Adam needs.
If this type of thing happens too frequently and you feel Adam’s well-being is at stake, speak up.
“Shelly,” you can say, “we have two very different parenting styles. From what I’ve read and learned, children in this generation need a soft touch. I know you love our children and want the very best for them. Would you be willing to go with me to speak to a professional so we can get some guidance? I think it would be best for both of us to be on the same page, and it would mean so much to me.”
My sense is that Shelly, your “warm, insightful partner,” would agree.
Wishing you much success in growing your garden,
— Dovid Z.
Sit and Schmooze
I am happy that you have a viable marriage and care enough to maintain and sustain it. Unfortunately these days, that seems to be the first thing to go: The moment people encounter rough waters, the marriage is tossed overboard.
I am not insinuating that every divorce results from a lack of concerted effort. However, in our disposable society, it does seem a little too easy to throw in the towel. But let us save that discussion for another letter.
What should a dad do when his parenting techniques run contrary to those of his spouse? I recommend sitting down with Shelly and having an honest discussion.
“Shelly, you and I have very different parenting styles, so I have a plan. The next time an incident happens, can we discuss it before reacting?”
That way, you and Shelly can have a plan and avoid potential conflict. You can have a meeting on the best way to handle the situation, and who knows? Maybe you’ll even agree on the same method. It’s always best not to react in the heat of the moment, so this can be a good takeaway for all parents: Walk away, think, breathe, and come back when you can react calmly.
Another option: You can decide to divide and conquer. In other words, consider taking turns. Sometimes you will handle the situation, and sometimes it can be tossed into Shelly’s court.
Shelly might be relieved to have this choice so that she doesn’t have to come up with a disciplinary measure. It is possible that, deep down, Shelly is disappointed in herself for her harshness but isn’t sure how to change. An ingrained habit, especially one handed down from her parents, is challenging to overturn. So you might give her a gift she has been waiting for.
Kudos to you for being a supportive and superlative husband and father. Wishing you both much joy from your beautiful family.
— Ellen W.
Do you have a dilemma? Maybe our readers can help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; identifying details will remain confidential.