Friday, July 11, 2008

Undermining Your Spouse

The other day I was telling my 6-year-old to do something when my husband stepped in and said, “She doesn’t need to do that.” Another time I scolded her for cutting in front of a man while we were all walking (she does this all the time, and this time she almost tripped the poor guy) and my husband said, "It's not a big deal. She didn't really do anything wrong."

I am using examples with no substance to make a point: undermining your spouse in front of the children is a really bad idea. When I was younger I picked up on my parents discipline disagreements and figured out early on how to manipulate them to give me what I wanted. If mom said no, I’d go to dad. If dad said no, I’d go to mom. To which parent I went depended on the issue at hand. If I wanted new clothes, I’d go to mom. “Don’t tell your father,” she cautioned me. If I wanted to stay late at a concert, I’d go to my dad. “Don’t tell your mother,” he said. I felt victorious after each incident because I knew I had the magic wand in my hands.

So let me get this straight: I was supposed to tell the truth and not be sneaky, yet my parents taught me the exact opposite of what they preached.

I strongly believe parents, in order to raise children who respect them, must be a team. You may not always agree with what your spouse says, but you should never say so in front of the kids. As one expert wrote: "The important thing is to never contradict your spouse in front of your child. This is confusing for the child, and will never work. He will not take your punishment seriously if he thinks for one moment that he can change your or your spouse's mind when he has one of you alone."

I am not saying you should never argue in front of your kids. In fact, many experts suggest having "heated discussions" in front of your children to teach them how to resolve problems. When talking with each other, never hit below the belt, call your husband or wife a name or bring up past issues. If you feel the conversation is getting out of hand, it's okay to say, "Let's take a time out and talk about this later," or "Can we please discuss this upstairs out of earshot?" (Click here and click here to read more in-depth articles on arguing in front of your kids.)

The same theory holds true for parenting. There have been many times I haven't agreed with what my spouse has said to my girls. Since we both speak a foreign language, I will try to say something in that language (keeping my tone even and indifferent) to indicate how I feel about the situation. If that doesn't work, I ask to speak to him outside. Sometimes he comes into the next room with me and we talk; other times he is too annoyed and refuses to listen. I'm sure I have been guilty of ignoring him as well, but I am much more aware of keeping the parenting bond held tightly over the kids than he is.

Here's what Canadian parenting expert Kathy Lynn said on the subject (click here to read more by Ms. Lynn):

It would be nice if we could always agree on discipline issues. But no matter how closely Mom and Dad agree on child raising, there will be areas of disagreement. Be honest about it. If you truly disagree be clear and up front with each other.Decide how to handle them and if you just can't, try counseling. I recommend that if two parents disagree on how to handle a given situation, the one who started with it finish and the other stays uninvolved. Disagreements about parenting should be handled away from the children. Kids are also comfortable with the fact that each of their parents has a slightly different take on some issues. The problem comes when they can use that to cause conflict between you. Another problem to watch for is over-compensating. For example, if you feel your partner is too protective you might become way too loose. Respect each other, work together and you and your children will all benefit.

I could not agree more.

Photo by Sue R B, courtesy of stock.xchng


Jocelyn said...

Funny, I just had a conversation about this with a girlfriend last night. She and her husband do not have kids, yet but we were talking about values that are parents instilled in us. Her parents divorced when she was 4 years old. Although her parents did not see eye to eye on many things, they stood by each other when it came to discipline. She hated it it as a teenager and now sees the value in it.

This is a great post! I've dealt with similar situations as yours with Marley's Dad.

Anonymous said...

Right on sister. Sometimes it is nice to hear this from someone other than your spouse, so this did not fall on deaf ears.


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