I have to confess something: I have all too often thought about my wife, “You know, if she would just do things a little differently in this situation, she’d have more success with the kids. If she would just listen to my parenting advice and put it into practice once in a while, I bet she’d be less stressed with the kids. If she would just read some of the books I’ve read, I know she’d find more joy in her parenting.”
I think these things because, after all, I have a master’s degree in this field. I read marriage and parenting books as a hobby. I listen to CDs and podcasts by parenting experts. I pray almost every day asking the Lord to make me a better father, and I spend a lot of time self-analyzing my parenting behaviors. So obviously – obviously! – whatever advice I have for my wife is going to be very useful and should be taken into account, right?
But then there are weeks like this one, where she is out of town and I’m solo parenting my kids. If I’m such a parenting guru, shouldn’t that mean that a week home alone with me will transform these boys into the paragon’s of godly pre-manliness we strive for? Well, what do you think the reality is?
No, it would seem that as much as I can go off to work for a day, fill my head with great ideas and spill them out into planning, come home and sit on my high horse of wise counsel, the fact is that in the trenches, I still struggle.
But we all have that tendency to look at our spouse and say, “I think you could be doing it better. And by better, I mean my way.” This is especially true when we’ve just learned some really great tactics or finally grasped some awesome parenting philosophy. And I want to be clear, those things are not worthless. In fact, I honestly do believe that there is a lot of value to things I have read and learned about parenting that I feel so inclined to share with my wife.
The question, though, is this – what is the best way to get those things across to your spouse? That’s a question I wrestle with often, because I don’t want to make my wife feel threatened by coming on strong, but I do want to encourage her when I see room for improvement. Just like I want her to encourage me to do better when I’m not bringing my best. So what do we do?
I got an email today from the folks at Love and Logic that put it very well, and I’d like to share the text of it. Very worth the read, and a great reminder on this subject:
Jennifer wrote to me, saying that her friend gave her one of my audio CDs called Love and Logic Magic When Kids Drain Your Energy. She went on to tell me that all she has to do now is to put her hand on her forehead and the oldest child tells his sister to shape up because Mom’s fixin’ to have an energy drain. She raved about how much fun she was having with the techniques she’d learned.
Giving me an example, she said, “Yesterday on the shopping trip, my 13-year-old daughter was getting pretty heavy into her newly acquired teenage angst, doing all she could to let me know how clueless I was. Just when I was about to say something, her older brother leaned over and said, ‘Cool it, Jess! Mom’s got her hand on her forehead!’ He saved the day for all of us.”
I was glad to read that it was working for her, when she continued to write, “But now I have to get my husband to buy into Love and Logic.”
Uh, oh, I thought. This is not the kind of thing that usually ends well. I don’t know many spouses who react well when being told that they need to change the way they are parenting. I immediately thought about that wise old sage who said, “You can’t make someone mad and sell them something at the same time.”
I wrote back to encourage her not to try to get Dad to change his parenting techniques. Telling someone that they are wrong, or that they don’t measure up, is a good way to trigger some resistance.
Her husband might find himself interested in what she’s doing if he sees her having an easier time with her own parenting. It would probably be best to encourage Dad to parent in his own way while she experiments with Love and Logic techniques to see if it makes her own job easier.
Listening frequently to her CDs when he might accidentally hear them might help. The odds for success are always better when someone buys in on their own, just as she did.
In other words, the next time you feel like you need to tell your spouse what to do differently, stop, take a deep breath, and think about how you can let it be his or her own idea. Be willing to support and offer the resources, but let them come to it. Parenting is intended to be a two person job, so make sure that you’re working together as a team, even when one of you needs to work on something.