There are many things I love about my husband. He is dedicated and hard-working. He leaves at 5:00 a.m. every morning to support me and our children. To care for our two young kids. And he is a loyal friend. He is honest, reliable, and sincere. He is also funny as hell. From dad and fart jokes to his seemingly endless library of gifs and memes, he knows how to make me and the kiddos smile. But his temper is short. His patience is limited, and it’s caused tension between us because I disagree with his “approach.”
Scratch that: I hate the way my spouse parents our daughter.
Make no mistake: Many parents disagree on childcare. It’s natural and normal. You are two different people from two different worlds, and you each bring your own experience (and baggage) to the situation. For good or ill, your upbringing affects your own kids. But my husband and I aren’t just divided, we are at odds.
We couldn’t be more different.
You see, my husband is a yeller. He screams at my daughter when she drops food or knocks over her cup. He believes things should be done his way or no way and says things like “because I said so” on a daily basis. He does not believe in second chances. He goes from zero to punishment in a split second, and he believes all children are better off when they are raised with “a little bit of fear.”
His words, not mine.
I, of course, disagree. I grew up in a loud household — a volatile and verbally abusive household — and the negativity affected my self-confidence and psyche. I believed “acting bad” meant I was bad. I was a fuck up. A failure. A complete and total disappointment. I became afraid to function and regularly swallowed my feelings and words. My personality was stunted by shame and fear, and I spent many years in verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive relationships because that is what I learned.
At the time, they seemed natural, normal. Hell, they were (in an odd way) comfortable. But today? I still jump when voices are raised. My heart races. My muscles lock up. I often feel like I’m walking on eggshells, strong opinions silence my own. I am timid. Meek. And the only times I stand up and fight back are when my daughter is involved because authoritative parenting doesn’t work. At all. And she deserves better.
Both my children deserve better.
Of course, this means a rift has formed between my husband and myself. We spend many evenings in silence or making small talk. When the topic of parenting is broached, he becomes defensive and I become aggressive. I “lash out.” When my happy, energetic, and outgoing little girl shut downs — when fear consumes her heart and eyes — I yell. The house is full of anger and noise, and unsurprisingly, she responds to our aggression with more aggression: She kicks, hits, screams, and yells.
This is not healthy, for her or us, and I know both my husband and I are at fault. We are both wrong. We need to get our tone in check, our parenting in check, and we need to work together, as people, partners, and parents. But how can we do this? By listening more and talking less. By accepting we both have strengths and weaknesses, and each has their place in our disciplinary approach. My calm, understanding tone encourages by daughter to confide in me — I am the person she turns to with problems and secrets — while my husband’s firmness has fostered independence. She is responsible beyond her years. And we should use those traits (and each other) to our advantage. To help our kids.
Things are far from perfect. My daughter goes to therapy every Tuesday to find her voice and get a handle on her emotions. We have created “safe spaces” for her to calm down, cool down, and decompress. A corner is full of sensory objects of her own choosing. And she knows that when there, she’s in control. We will not address the situation again until we’ve all had a moment to breathe.
I also attend therapy. I listen to her counselors’ observations, suggestions, and (of course) my daughter’s concerns, and then bring notes home for my husband. We revisit our approach at least once a week. And, with the help of her therapist, we are all working to better explain our emotions. Instead of yelling, we are working to say things like “Daddy’s becoming frustrated. I’m going to step away” before lashing out. Before yelling and screaming and saying — or doing — things we don’t mean. And this applies to me too.
Instead of talking over (see also: yelling at) my husband, I’ve begun texting him with my concerns and tricks I’ve learned in therapy to help him to diffuse the situation from a distance. To give him a chance to course correct on his own.
We still need work. A lot of work. I am still far too permissive, and my husband still comes off aggressive. There is a communication breakdown between he and my daughter. Between my husband and her dad. But it is a slow process, a long process, and one I am confident we can “correct” because she deserves better, now and in her future. What she sees at home will affect her relationships later in life. My husband deserves better. He admittedly feels like a bad parent, a failure to his little girl, and I know the man I married cares. We just need to get together and work together. We need to be and act like a team.