Q. My daughter and I got into a heated argument the other day. My husband was there, and he took my daughter’s side. It’s been bothering me ever since, and my relationships with both my husband and daughter have been affected. How can I make things right?
A. I think many parents can relate to this situation. First and foremost, don’t think that simply apologizing and talking about how wrong/bad you feel will fix things in your family. Other changes need to occur, and soon. You and your husband need to get on the same parenting page. It’s never too late to become a better parent and co-parent in harmony with your spouse.
It might help to find a time when your husband is in a receptive mood or create such a time. If you don’t know how to do this, read the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It will help you identify yours and your husband’s best ways to build connection. For example, men often like to hear about something they did well (words of affirmation). Women often like having someone do something for them (acts of service) or give them a present (receiving gifts).
Next, talk with your husband about how you can change your behavior to better parent together. Here are some suggestions.
- Get on the same page. Put off parenting decisions until the two of you can discuss them together. When your daughter asks for an answer, you can say, “I have to talk this over with your father” or “I have to think about it and give you an answer later.”
- Drop any competitiveness. Be mindful of the desire you might have to be the best or favorite parent, thus casting your co-parent as the “bad” person in your child’s mind. Support and respect your husband as a parent, and insist on support and respect in return.
- Set rules together. As a family, discuss and establish some household rules. Post these rules and expect everyone to abide by them or pay a reasonable consequence. When your kid breaks a rule or engages in bad behavior, it’s OK to say “no” and stick to it, even if the kid is throwing a fit. The other side of that coin is that it’s OK to say “yes” to bending a rule – changing a curfew, for example – when both you and your co-parent are in agreement.
- Offer kind reminders. At times, if it feels like your husband isn’t supporting your parenting, just remind him with something like, “Remember, we’re on the same team.” You could even develop a hand signal – like the ones some couples use when they want to leave a party – to use when one of you is parenting without consulting the other. Signals can often be better than words.
- Nurture your relationship with your husband. It’s reassuring to kids to see their parents show love and respect for each other. Feeling safe helps a kid feel confident and facilitates doing better in school. Try to never say anything in anger that you’ll be sorry for later. One of the best mothers I know points out, “Once the bell is rung, it can’t be unrung.”
In addition to these suggestions, I recommend the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.
For readers out there who are co-parenting in situations of divorce or separation, some of the suggestions above still apply. You may be extremely angry with your ex-partner, but you need to set those feelings aside when it comes to co-parenting together.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.
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