You can watch the video version of this post on my Facebook page. Today, I’m going to address a topic that is REALLY frequent in the Parenting Posse-last week it came up again about what to do when your parenting partner isn’t on board. This is a pretty frequent concern because using uncommon sense parenting strategies is a real 180 for most people- but I generally see this issue with Dads specifically because of- to be very frank- the toxic masculinity they were raised with. MANY men in the 80s and 90s were raised with the “Men don’t cry, take your punishment like a man, if someone challenges you-you put them in their place, real men don’t take shit from anyone, grunt, grunt slap chest” brand of toxic masculinity. They were fed the idea that the definition of being resilient is to live through abuse and come out the other side acting like it didn’t happen and it taught you something valuable. And that putting effort into something makes you a wuss or a pushover- you just man up and use your authority as their Father! So it’s not surprising that that’s what they believe! Because that’s all they’ve experienced. Human beings, on the whole, are REALLY BAD at second-hand experiences- we don’t believe it unless we’ve actually had it happen TO US. And many men- consciously or unconsciously- feel like this is their “reward” for taking it as kids. Now it’s MY TURN to be in charge. So we’ve got to demonstrate to them that being in charge doesn’t mean being abusive- either physically or mentally- towards our kids. That collaborating with our kids doesn’t mean letting them get away with things. That punishment doesn’t actually teach anything, and that they’ll get FAR better results and have a FAR better relationship with their children if they collaborate with them.
So how do we do that?
We’re going to start by agreeing to some ground rules.
The first rule to implement is that whoever starts, finishes.
And most men get behind this REALLY QUICKLY because it means you’re going to stop nagging them and interrupting them when they’re parenting AS LONG AS THEY AREN’T BEING PHYSICALLY OR MENTALLY ABUSIVE. Okay? Of course, if they’re going to hit them or call them names- you’re going to jump in. But if your partner is INSISTENT on using timeouts… time outs don’t work, but they aren’t abusive. They’re shitty and they make no sense, but they aren’t abusive. So whoever starts parenting, finishes. This is MUCH easier on your children because it’s WAY LESS CONFUSING. I know everybody’s concerned about if Mom and Dad do things differently then it’s going to confuse them. And yeah, it will- but children are really good at context generally, they can understand that Mom does things this way and Dad does them this way. And that doesn’t just extend to discipline, it extends to bath time and bedtime and dinner time and any other routine you do with your kids. Consistency is BEST- but on the whole, as long as you’re both individually consistent it’s not nearly as confusing as Dad starting to implement at a timeout, and then you jumping in and saying no we don’t do that and starting an LCP. What they learn in that scenario is that if they can get the two of you around when they misbehave that they can easily deflect the heat off of them by getting the two of you into conflict with each other.
Now what I generally see when parents agree to this is that Dad actually HATES IT in practice. Because he who starts, finishes- that doesn’t mean you have to back him up. It just means you have to stay mum and not interfere. So when he starts going “Aren’t you going to back me up?!” because timeouts and authoritarian parenting techniques, in general, rely on ganging up on a child… No, I’m not. This is YOUR THING. I’m not going to get in your way, I’m not going to override you- but this is on YOU to enforce, not me. We’ve already established that I think this is a bad idea- so don’t try to drag me into it. Same goes the other way, however- he cannot interfere with you or override you- but don’t be expecting him to back you up. If you start in on an LCP you haven’t thought through- don’t go looking at him for suggestions.
So the first rule is that he who starts finishes. Does that sound doable? Give me a YES in the comments if that sounds doable to you. He, or she, who starts, finishes. There’s going to be no more jumping in and commandeering the other’s parenting unless it’s taking an abusive turn. If your significant other starts, BUTT OUT. If you start, they’re going to agree to butt out. Let’s just eliminate the conflict.
The second rule is that we don’t argue in front of the kids about parenting.
If you disagree with how he’s handling something and YOU JUST CAN’T KEEP IT TO YOURSELF- wait until they’re in bed or out playing in the backyard or whatever. Don’t disagree in front of the kids. Again, if you’re disagreeing in front of them it teaches your children that if they can just get the two of you to witness their misbehavior, that the focus will quickly flip to the conflict in parenting styles between the two of you and suddenly there’s no consequence for them. If you need to discuss it, discuss it in private. This also means there are no snide remarks about each other’s parenting styles in front of the kids. If your child appeals to you to save them all you have to say is “Daddy’s handling this.” If you start in on “Well if that’s what your Dad said he’s going to do then l guess that’s what’s happening!” You’ve now turned it back to the conflict between the two of you. Mom’s handling this. Dad’s handling this. That’s all that needs to be said.
I know from experience just how hard this is. When my oldest was like 18 months and behavior started to be like- REAL behavior- I gave myself so many canker sores biting my cheek and my tongue. Pretty sure I single-handedly propped up the income report for Anbesol that quarter. I’m sure you can tell just from listening to me here that I’m not one for keeping my mouth shut. On the whole, if I have an opinion on something you can be pretty damn sure you’re going to hear it. SO THIS WAS SO HARD FOR ME!! For a REALLY long time. Like I’d have to go for a drive sometimes and get one of my friends on speakerphone and just vent at them so that I wouldn’t stand there in the kitchen going “Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND?! What is this accomplishing?!” But just like anger- it’s totally valid to feel those things- you just need to be mindful of how you express them.
So the first rule is he who starts, finishes, and second is we don’t discuss parenting choices in front of the kids. Those are our ground rules.
And this is what generally happens once those ground rules are set and adhered to: Give it a few months and the kids start behaving much better for you than for your partner, and eventually they make a comment like “Why don’t they ever listen to me?!” or “Why do they like you better?” or “Why does he only do this for me?!” And then you have your opening to say “Because I’m working with them, not against them. Would you like me to teach you how to do that too?”
And I can pretty confidently say that because I’ve seen it happen OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. Including with my own husband. My husband was the definition of toxic masculinity and he did an about-face pretty quickly when he realized that a lot of the time I don’t even have to do any discipline at all- I just make an observation using declarative language and they correct themselves. He’s now a PILLAR of patience and calm while doing the LCP- it actually puts me to shame. I’m often white knuckling it and taking deep breaths and trying to calm myself down, he’s so calm it’s actually almost threatening sometimes. Like- you know when you’re expecting someone to be upset and instead they just look at you and go “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” and you’re like OH HOLY SHIT this is NOT GOOD? Yeah- that.
Men’s biggest fears when implementing the LCP is that their authority will go out the window, that the child won’t learn anything, and that they’re going to “get away with it.” When they see that that isn’t the case and that in fact they just plain don’t misbehave as often because it’s inconvenient and they now have the skills they need to do what they’re being asked to do… they begin to realize that THEIR way is actually letting them get away with it. And once they have that lens change, they can’t unsee it. THEN you have your opening to start introducing them to executive skills and self-regulation and all that other good stuff that further supports their skill development and that’s where you see the DRASTIC changes in behavior. And the nice thing about that is- since many men don’t have these skills themselves, because of the culture they were raised in- by working on them with your child they begin to develop them too. Again, personal experience- my husband’s emotional control was SHIT. If things were good he was fine but as soon as a bit of adversity or conflict arose he was all over the damn place. By working on it with my son, teaching our sons what to do, he’s learning it too. And it’s been SUCH a wonderful shift.
It’s a process. It’s all a process. BUT- it’s doable.