I Don't Respect My Husband's Parenting Skills

parents fighting in front of son holding teddy bear
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Love, Family

One reader asks:

"One of the reasons I married my partner was because I believed he would be a great father. Now that we have a 2-year-old, I am underwhelmed—and disappointed—by his parenting skills. He often gets frustrated with our son, takes our son's outbursts personally, and gives in the towel too early and turns on the TV to quiet him. It has really affected how I view him as a life partner and even how much I respect him as a person. What's the best way to turn things around?"

Pam's response:

Parenting styles always vary—sometimes a lot and, if you're lucky, only a little bit. Some individual parents have more experience, education and inherent abilities than others. This young mother appears to have some significant differences with her husband regarding the right and wrong way to parent. 

Well, here is a way to think about this. Couples frequently make the mistake of thinking their co-parent is wrong when, in fact, s/he is just different. It is an important distinction when you are trying to work cooperatively with another person. 

Let's define wrong vs. different. Wrong applies to things that are dangerous: leaving a child in a car by himself, not monitoring your toddler near the pool or lake. Different applies to: putting a child in front of a TV or organic vs. not organic foods. Some of us take these differences very seriously—because our child's well-being is at stake. However, if you want to work cooperatively, it is important to distinguish between different vs. wrong. Most of the disagreements parents have are really about differences.

I think moms usually come into parenting with more training than dads, so I'll talk about this issue that way. 

The problem takes a bad course when mom begins to think the differences have something to do with character deficiencies in the dad. Then when she tries to discuss these differences, the dad can hear the disapproval and disrespect—not only for what he does but who he is. He is then more likely to become defensive and less likely to take any advice from mom. Then both parents get mad and move further apart in their parenting styles. And so it goes. 

So, this mom would be well advised to start with a different attitude about the dad. She certainly can disagree about putting the child in front of the TV too soon but she needs to be willing to negotiate and compromise. She sees some weaknesses in this dad (less patience and creativity than she has) but do these differences really merit disrespect?

Not really. These are issues of education and experience—not bad character.

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So the solutions begin to look different. Instead of "Dad needs to shape up and be a better parent," one solution might be, "We should take some classes together." But that's only one solution. If a loving mom and loving dad are working together, they will be more creative in finding the solutions together for their child. Dad needs to be open to outside education or guidance regarding parenting. Mom needs to be more open about the way Dad parents. Is it different or is it wrong?

Pam Lipe is a licensed psychologist in North St. Paul, MN who specializes in relationship therapy.  Read more about her at PamLipe.com.

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