Young and idealistic, Stan and I reveled in our similarities and quickly realized that our match was made in heaven. Engagement and marriage ensued, and we were blessed with a lively brood: two boys and two girls.
As the kids grew, we both wondered where our similarities had gone; somehow, our differences became glaringly apparent.
Contrary to the stereotypical view of men and women, Stan is the softie, while I am the stickler for order and discipline. Snacks and meals must be healthy, and treats should be given occasionally. Bedtime is non-negotiable, and homework must be completed before play time.
While the kids let out an occasional grumble that their friends don’t have to put up with so many rules, I feel confident that these predictable safeguards and routines provide them with security.
And then, enter Stan, stage right. Whenever I go out and Stan is on duty, trouble begins. I come home, and a scene of bedlam greets me.
Bowls and spoons sticky with remnants of ice cream and sprinkles litter the table, and potato chip pieces and licorice bits are strewn in every direction. The kids are wearing dopey, high-on-junk-food expressions, with glazed eyes and goofy smiles.
I rein in my churning fury, reminding myself that it is never healthy to address an issue in the heat of the moment and that I should just wait until I recover and feel able to deal with the situation calmly.
“How was your meeting?” Stan asks, cantering around the room with a squealing 2-year-old on his back.
“Great.” I indicate the royal disaster in the kitchen and living room with a sweeping motion of my hands and a question mark in my eyes.
“Oh, that.” Stan flashes a childish grin. “I was planning to deal with that before you came home, but we were just having so much fun.”
Yeah, I know.
If it were a rare occasion for me to be greeted by this kind of havoc and utter disregard for the way I like our home to run, I could swallow it. But it happens constantly, and it undermines the standard I’ve worked so hard to put in place. So what to do?
Stan and I have discussed this repeatedly.
“Why can’t we agree to disagree?” he says. “You and I have different styles. When you’re on, your routines are followed. When I’m on, the house runs according to my rules.”
“What rules?” I quip, and Stan shoots me a wounded look.
“Don’t you understand?” I say. “You’re making me into the Wicked Witch. Mommy is the stickler who tolerates no nonsense, and Daddy is all fun and games. Plus, they feel like whenever I say no to something, they can just turn to you, and you’ll accede to their demands — if not immediately, the next time Mommy leaves the house. This doesn’t feel like a partnership. We’re parenting on two diverse roads, and it shouldn’t be like that. We’re a team. We need to figure out how to complement each other, not work against each other.”
“When I’m with our children,” Stan says, “I just want to have fun. Build good memories. Life has enough stress. Shouldn’t home be a safe haven?”
“We have to figure out a compromise,” I insist. “You can still romp around with them without going overboard. They don’t have to indulge in every kind of nosh on the planet each time I step out the door. And they can clean up their rooms and do their homework before you launch the party. That way, I’m not painted as the mean one. We’ll be sharing the job together. Especially because you’ll present it as ‘Mommy and I want you to do x, y, and z. And then we got you this fantastic treat that you can enjoy afterwards.’”
I pause to allow Stan time to absorb what I’m saying.
“Then we’ll become a unit, a well-oiled machine that works in harmony. Don’t you want that?” I ask.
This is one sample of myriad conversations, yet no visible change has occurred. I see the same scenarios time and time again and feel wedged into the persona of a harsh, demanding parent, while Stan enjoys being the gentle, kind, indulgent one. I’m frustrated and don’t know how to proceed.
Is it possible to co-parent effectively when spouses have such diverse styles and attitudes?
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