Hard or Soft: Parenting edition.
May 26, 2015 10:43 AM   Subscribe

My husband thinks we are too hard on our son. I think he really means I'm too hard on our son. I need some perspective.

Our son turned 2 in January. He is a smart little man. He loves snuggles and cars. My husband and I are both in our late 30's. Our son is our only child at the moment, our newest edition will be born in a couple of months.

I am a stay at home mom, my husband works a lot so I do the majority of parenting. I spend every day with my son. I know when he is testing limits and when he is genuinely unsure of how to handle a situation. I treat the situations accordingly. At least I thought I did until my husband said he thinks we are too hard on him. He says we, but I know he means me. I explained that I thought it was important to set boundaries and enforce them early, and he said that maybe he is just a big softy. I said I don't know. I really don't know. He has made me second guess if I'm doing this right. I give our son loads of praise and cuddles through out the day for no reason other than I love him or for choosing appropriate actions. He is a really good kid, loving, empathetic, smart, and silly and only gets the discipline when he is behaving (in what I deem) inappropriately.

Examples of my parenting style as follows.
If son is doing something that he shouldn't, like throwing a toy at my face, or kicking me, I give him a reminder of hugs not hits, or kisses not kicks or some other little lyric that is appropriate to the situation. If he continues beyond that first warning the toy goes away, or I get up and move and won't sit with him anymore and explain it hurts when he is hitting and it makes me sad. If he asks me not to go, or throws a fit because he wants the toy back I tell him he has to apologize first and explain/ remind him why he is apologizing. He will apologize. Then if he does it again I use my loud stern voice and tell him we're done and take the toy away or leave the room and tell him why. I give him time to melt down and return. He won't get the toy back, but I make him apologize again. He will and then we have a cuddle and we all carry on as usual.

Yesterday son had a meltdown because I wouldn't let him have the crumbs off the floor of the car when we got back from the store. I shut the car door and told him to head in to the house. He said no and got mad and threw his hat. I said ok, when you are finished come inside. He then said he was going to pee outside (we are potty training). At that point my husband came outside and only saw our son crying and peeing outside and thought he was so upset that he wet his pants by accident and scooped him up and took him inside and apologized to him (husband to son). He then gave me a bit of grief for making our son so upset that he peed himself and that he (husband) felt so badly for him. I tried to explain that he told me he was going to do it, but I think my husband doubts me.

Our son doesn't like to walk in the grass out back because he is afraid of dog poo. He will happily walk out front in the grass. He wanted to go to the gate at the back of the yard. I told him he could. He threw a fit and wanted Daddy to pick him up and take him. I told him he had to at least walk and Daddy would hold his hand. Husband picked him up and started to take him. I said have him walk and show him it's ok. Every time he would start to put him down our son would shriek. I said that if he didn't want to walk with Daddy, then he couldn't go back there. Husband brought him back up. Later he told me he thought that was mean. I tried to explain that he walks out front all the time and he will walk to the back holding my hand, but because Daddy is home, he was taking advantage of that.

We are potty training, as I mentioned, and he has been great. I haven't used a diaper in over a month and he hasn't been having any accidents. Yesterday he had 3 while Daddy was home. Every time, I would take him to the bathroom, clean him up, and remind him that he's a big boy and he needs to tell us when he has to go. All the while my husband is interjecting from the other room saying that it is mommy and daddy's fault for not asking if he needed to go.

Brushing our son's teeth is like trying to dress a cat. Squirms and shrieks abound. I hold my son in my lap, pin his legs down and just get the job done. My husband does a puppet show to make him laugh and entertain him. I thought we made a good team on this one. Son fake cries, I mean so fake that even husband knows they are fake, but as soon as puppet show starts he is giggling away and tooths are getting brushed without him noticing. Husband confessed that he thinks that again, we are being too hard on him.

I know you are only getting my view of the story, but if you have any insight I would appreciate it. I certainly do not want to be a bully to our child. I also don't want to be a pushover and do him a disservice. What can I do better? Is there a better way to handle these situations? Or is my husband just a big softy who will have to not be so afraid of upsetting our kids from time to time?
posted by MayNicholas to Human Relations (38 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Who is too soft or two hard is irrelevant. The more important issue is that your child is getting mixed messages. You both need to discuss this with each other (not when your son is present) and agree a united approach. How have you solved other issues on which you disagree? Use those skills.
posted by bimbam at 10:56 AM on May 26, 2015 [49 favorites]

You and your husband have different perspectives on this because you are home with the kid all day, and he isn't. When he is home, he wants to enjoy what little time he has with your child without having to spend all of it disciplining him. You're the one who has to deal with him all the time, both the good and the bad and know that any lapses in discipline he has are going to get back to you many fold. I say this because my parents both worked really long hours and they POINT BLANK said many years later that they were less interested in turning their limited interactions with us into disciplining moments because they wanted to enjoy what few hours they had with us.

So I think your husband is in the "wrong" in the general sense, but what I think is going on is that he wants to have an enjoyable time with your son without having to stop every half-moment to discipline.

Maybe you guys can designate limited "fun times" that don't involve regular correction so that it doesn't seem like every moment your husband has with your child is about correcting his behavior but at the same time doesn't become just about enabling your toddler's bad habits.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 10:58 AM on May 26, 2015 [13 favorites]

Does your husband understand how toddlers work? How they are the worst combination of manipulative tyrants and helpless, irrational idiots? How they will cry for any and every reason?

How many other small children does your husband spend time around? To me, this sounds less like a parenting problem and more like a problem inherent to all toddlers. You're really only exposed to the polished good moments from other people's kids, but you're in the trenches with your own. I think it's really easy for parents to assume that they're doing something wrong (or, even worse, that you specifically are doing something wrong) when the reality is that meltdowns and tantrums are just endemic to toddlers in general.
posted by phunniemee at 10:59 AM on May 26, 2015 [25 favorites]

Sounds like your husband is rather undermining you, and probably too gentle on the kid, like bright said. I can understand that, but nothing you said sounds the least bit out of the ordinary from my observations of my friends kids. Communicating is, as usual, probably the answer.

Well, maybe the pin them down to brush their teeth, since I never have to deal with that, but I do have to go to extreme measures for my cat.
posted by Jacen at 11:08 AM on May 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

You're us. Down to the age of the kid (though not gender). Except I'm the husband in the scenario. I have the same impulses as your husband to go softer on the toddler Pyro (though I do my own disciplining as well if she does something egregious). I do try to control these impulses because Ms. Pyro is generally (if not always) correct.

FWIW I think you're right here, and you need to ask him to back you up. Tell him that if he has concerns, to voice to you only and not directly to the child because it will undermine the discipline. @bimbam is correct, mixed messages are not the way to go here. The earlier you start, the easier it is to correct the bad behavior.

So in conclusion stand your ground and recruit the husband as an ally.

PS: Sometimes I will talk to the kid in a more soft calm voice while getting on her eye-level then the wife, and in some situations that seems to work better. So maybe the good cop/bad cop routine might appeal to your husband, though the "good cop" still has to stay firm.
posted by pyro979 at 11:15 AM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

You two need to be presenting a united front. Undermining one parent's attempts to discipline and set boundaries in front of the child is a no-no. If he disagrees with what you're doing, he needs to discuss it with you in private.
posted by cecic at 11:16 AM on May 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

The main thing that jumps out to me is that this seems like an awful lot of apologizing for a 2 year old. I get what you are trying to teach him, but I think it is possible to overdo it on the forced apology front. The other thing is, I'd give him several repetitions at the apologize and move on stage, and try to reserve the times where you just walk away and tell him you don't want to see him anymore for the extreme cases where you yourself are about to lose it.

For tantrums over taking a toy away, I'd skip the stern voice and gently tell him that it looks like he's not able to use the toy nicely, so it has to go away; and then when he has his tantrum, sympathize kindly that he seems very angry, and he must be very frustrated that the toy had to go away. I'd tell him I loved him and i hope he'll be ready to play again soon.

I find that putting words to little people's feelings helps them "use their words" when they are a bit bigger.

But, different things work for different kids. As others have said, the united front is the most important of all. Kids test rules over and over to see if they get the same results every time. Can I hit mommy on the leg? On the arm? With a block? On Tuesday? On Thursday? When Daddy is watching? The more consistent you can be, the easier it is to figure out the rule is "no hitting, ever."
posted by telepanda at 11:18 AM on May 26, 2015 [25 favorites]

Agree with a lot of the above. My husband and I have the same overall parenting goals, but we both pick very different battles. I refuse to fight with our kids (2 and 6) over what to eat. He will make them eat carrots before cake. Whoever is in charge of dinner sets the boundaries, and the other parent backs that person up. So, if my husband has said that the girls need to eat carrots, and I know that, if I get asked, I say "you need to eat your carrots first." If he comes home and we are eating and the kids have a cookie on their dinner plates, he isn't going to tell them not to eat it until they eat carrots. The kids understand that we have different approaches to dinner. We have different approaches to bedtimes with the older kid; different approaches to helping with homework. That is all okay - the kids work that out. But we always, always back one another up and then have a discussion about what went on after the kids are in bed.

If my husband came out of the house and the two year old was peeing outside and crying hysterically ( can totally see this happening), then he would look to me, not to the child, for an explanation. I would either explain what happened ("she's crying because I won't give her the crumbs on the floor. We're fine, I've got it.") or explain what I need ("she's hysterical and I need to get the ice cream inside before it melts anymore. Can you just please take her upstairs and then I'll come talk to her?"). We both are willing to apologize to our kids, especially if the other one points out that we've been too hard. But as long as whatever the other parent is doing is safe and unhurtful, I can't imagine apologizing on behalf of the other one.

So, I guess our method is that each of us are consistent in our own parenting patterns, which ultimately both reach towards similar overarching goals, and we work as a team within those parenting patterns. Maybe you guys can't operate that way without setting up a dynamic where one of you is the "nice" parent or "soft" parent, I'm not sure. But just wanted to put the approach out there.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:31 AM on May 26, 2015 [21 favorites]

Yeah, tough to really say anything about the specific approaches themselves (what's hard or soft on within a fairly wide range can be very open to interpretation, and it depends on the kid as well), but you both should have a good understanding and acceptance of each other's parenting style, and agreement about overall goals, and you should always strive to be supportive of each other in front of him (definitely no undermining each other). That gives you a common ground for basic parenting but allows you to have your own style, which I think ultimately makes for better parents, both as a team and as individual parents.

On preview, dpx.mfx could be my spouse! That's how we work too and dpx.mfx describes what I was trying to say better.
posted by odin53 at 11:37 AM on May 26, 2015

I agree with others that talking with your husband about a general framework for discipline (including not only *how* you discipline, but what sorts of behaviors warrant discipline versus letting a kid do what he wants) would be helpful. There's a big range of normal that it seems like both of you probably fall into.

For what it's worth, since you do seem to be asking for an outsider's take: I have a 17-month-old son and some of what you describe sounds a bit harsh to me. Not so much the stuff about taking away toys or walking away if he's hitting or throwing things, but this:

Our son doesn't like to walk in the grass out back because he is afraid of dog poo... He wanted to go to the gate at the back of the yard. I told him he could. He threw a fit and wanted Daddy to pick him up and take him. I told him he had to at least walk and Daddy would hold his hand. Husband picked him up and started to take him. I said have him walk and show him it's ok... I tried to explain that he walks out front all the time and he will walk to the back holding my hand, but because Daddy is home, he was taking advantage of that.

I guess from my perspective that seems like a bit of an over-reach in terms of what sorts of things you should be correcting in terms of behavior. This is where I think a discussion with your husband about shared values could be helpful, because I do think those values can be a touchstone when figuring out which of the stuff that annoys/angers you should be addressed vs. just letting it go. What values of yours are you supporting by trying to prevent your husband from carrying your kid to the back gate? What values might be supported by stepping back and letting your son be afraid of dog poop and convince his dad to carry him? I don't mean either of those questions snarkily; I could imagine reasonable answers to both--but I can also imagine this is just something that exasperates you and you're doing knee-jerk parenting versus really considering what you're conveying to your son.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:39 AM on May 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

And sorry to double-post, but in case this is helpful, I've found that parallel reading by me and my husband of big-picture-type parenting books (or hell, even parenting blogs) can be a nice way to start discussing these issues about how we want to parent without getting too hung up on re-hashing specific times we've disagreed in the past (those discussions don't usually go anywhere). Right now we're reading The Whole-Brain Child and I really like it. More than most parenting books I've seen, it acknowledges that toddler behavioral stuff can be driven by different things at different times (e.g., some tantrums are because a kid gets too tired or hungry, while others are about trying to see whether they can get you to give in, and parents can often tell the difference), and so there's isn't really a one-size-fits-all response.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:53 AM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mixed messages will end up with your child playing one parent off against the other to get what they want. This is not good for anyone, you & your husband should have a discussion about this, it's OK for him to be the "softy" in the relationship as long as when you have set a boundary he respects & reinforces it. This will help teach your child that both parents need to be respected.
posted by wwax at 11:55 AM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

That's waaaaaaaaay too much discipline for a 2 year old. You can flag it with "when you X it hurts, makes me sad" etc., but seriously, that's too much apologizing.

Your son will grow out of 95% of this by the time he's 3/3.5 if you stop making everything into a contest. Praise the good behavior, more or less ignore the rest. Don't set boundaries as much as you create buy-in's. Setting a boundary automatically sets up a violation or a testing of the line. Inviting your son to enjoy the rewards of Good Behavior with you works much better. Mostly, you're just asking too much from a 2 year old.

Otherwise, your husband is totally in the wrong and y'all need to talk + he seems not to understand how toddlers work.
posted by jbenben at 12:11 PM on May 26, 2015 [15 favorites]

I think there are ways you could lighten up a bit and save yourself some aggravation. Who cares if Daddy carries him through the front yard and you don't? Let that be Daddy's problem, not yours; you don't need to chase them through the yard telling Dad to do it your way (and of course you two should be putting up a united front and discussing any disagreements privately). Who cares if he eats crumbs off the floor of the car? Maybe it's gross but I just might let my kid do that. He wouldn't want to do it for long, but if I make it a huge battle, he'll just want to do it more.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:23 PM on May 26, 2015 [11 favorites]

What's really "hard" on kids is inconsistency. So perhaps it would be a good thing for you grown-ups to communicate even more clearly about what you think you want to/need to do around your son, and why, and compare notes. Tell your husband to ask you first what's going on, before he interferes with "education"--it's the least he can do.
(Yup, and let dad partake in the cleaning up and toothbrushing. Why is this not happening?).

That said, when I read "important to set boundaries and enforce them early" I feel that there might be a non-kid-related subtext going on in what you think, a little depending on how you'd answer the question "important for whom?"

A good rule-of-thumb for saying "no" to a kid is whenever real values are in danger (your own balance-of-mind is a real value; so is stuff you don't want damaged; the kid's and everyone else's health and life; the peaceful, untroubled life of a pet; and so on). It takes time, energy and a readiness for reassessment to become secure in identifying 'real values.' They also need to be explained in a way that children of a certain age can grasp: The concept "this hurts" is understandable for someone of your son's age. The concept "apologise" is much less understandable in and of itself. He will eventually learn what it is to "apologise" if you yourself are a good example; but drilling him to perform "apologise" by ways of a ritual may be much less effective. The idea that the crumbs on the floor of the car are dirty and cannot be eaten any more is completely alien to a kid of that age. It needs to be explained, because they don't look dirty. Still, not eating nasty food is a real value, so it will be worth having tried to actually explain why he shouldn't eat those crumbs, and if you get a tantrum nevertheless, it will be relatively easy for you to sit through that attack.

A parent's convenience, however, is often not a real value (nor is what the neighbours/grandmas/internalized-pedagogue-with-Spock-in-mind supposedly expect to see in your interactions with your kid). The concept "to set boundaries early," too, seems a little too abstract to qualify for such a "real" value, at least if it isn't filled in with some concreteness (and hence: becomes negotiable locally).

I'm especially looking at "early" here. Before the age of three, your typical boundary-crossing toddler is most often just clueless, which means that positive reinforcement and distraction are real alternatives to "setting boundaries." Negotiating boundaries generally becomes an issue around three, and it will be your child who shows you when it's become the topic of the day. Believe me, you won't be needed to decide that for him. You are guaranteed to notice when it happens. Save your energy for that time.
posted by Namlit at 12:26 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

A few thoughts:

The peeing outside thing - I feel like your husband should have looked to you for an explanation or indication as to what was going on instead of whisking the kid away to apologize. The fact that he assumed your kid peed himself because you were mean to him is... worrying.

The grass thing - I would have let Dad carry him. I mean, yes, he needs to learn to walk in the grass, but he's only little once and he will learn eventually. If Dad wants to carry him, more power to him. I think I'd have chosen my battles and ignored this.

The tooth brushing thing - I am of the "hold them down and get it done" camp and my husband is better at doing the "make it fun even if it takes 4x as long" thing, and I think this is a stylistic difference that's not really a big deal, but you have to be okay letting the other person do their thing. Bedtimes take WAY longer when my husband does them vs when I do them, but that's FINE. (As long as the kiddo still gets enough sleep!)

The potty training thing - I REALLY don't like that Dad is interjecting from the other room. If he isn't asking the kid to get on the potty or cleaning up the pee, he doesn't get to interject that you're doing it wrong.

Bottom line: I think Dad needs a reality check - he cannot be undermining you in front of the kid. He can have a reasonable discussion with you later if he doesn't like what's going on, but in the moment? No. You're doing fine. Parenting a toddler while pregnant is really hard. There are some things I might relax about a little if I were you, maybe, but even if you didn't I'd still think you're doing a great job. My husband and I have a kind of similar dynamic (he's more fun and I tend to be the disciplinarian) and yes, my husband has to remind me sometimes to chill out, but I also have to hold firm on some things too. Sometimes teeth just need brushed! Sometimes tantrums just have to play out!
posted by meggan at 12:28 PM on May 26, 2015 [12 favorites]

I've struggled a bit in the last month or two with how I'm parenting my two year old (for more see my sorta recent ask), but what seemed to be the key problem for me was that I was vastly overestimating what was developmentally appropriate and possible for a two year old.

I think this is especially easy to do when there's a younger baby in the house (or on the way), the comparison can make it feel like the two year old is practically grown up and should be able to do/understand x, y and z by now. And when they don't it feels intentional or personal, rather than a result of the fact that they are still really really really young.

So from my read it does seem like you're choosing a lot of battles (facing his fear of dog poop, the crumbs, pinning him down for teeth brushing, forcing apologies) that may not be that important or that he's probably too young to get the 'benefit' from. But that's just my 2c. I'm not judging, it's so easy to get sucked into that cycle, but it's been my experience that when I ease up on the rules/no's/etc. and just try to really see the world from his perspective I am happier, he is happier (and EASIER) and we both have more fun. I've just read the "Toddler's eye view" chapter from "How Toddlers Thrive" and it helped me understand a little better what might be going on in those little brains/bodies.
posted by pennypiper at 12:53 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow. I really didn't think the apology thing was beyond his age grasp at all. He often initiates an apology without prompting if he bumps in to someone or steps on a foot. I figured that meant he understood the purpose of the words.
The crumb thing I won't budge on. There were some nasty dirty shoes that were on those floor crumbs.
I can see how I should have just let the grass thing go. I just won't carry my son back there because my pregnant butt just isn't going to. I don't want him to have a break down because mommy won't do it so daddy must come home nooooowwwww. Because, you know, toddler.
Husband did take son on potty breaks, for those of you that were concerned. I dealt with the clean ups though because he is a germaphobe who must use half a roll of TP and sanitizing wipes to clean a speck of pee off himself and the kid (I'm exaturating a little).

I guess we really just need to have a conversation about being united. And long term parenting goals.
posted by MayNicholas at 1:17 PM on May 26, 2015

I dealt with the clean ups though because he is a germaphobe who must use half a roll of TP and sanitizing wipes to clean a speck of pee off himself and the kid (I'm exaturating a little).

This is great! I guess we know where the "afraid of poop in the yard" comes from, - there's some empathy there -- and honestly, you felt like the crumbs were too dirty/gross - which isn't that far off from not wanting to step in poop.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:33 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Touche.
But in my defense, the crumbs were stepped on by dog park shoes...
posted by MayNicholas at 1:39 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Something we, and nearly all our friends, struggle with is the united front. Because sometimes it feels like the stricter parent uses that as a way to always be right and quell disagreement about parenting decisions, especially in the moment. I think the answers above about really hashing out your shared parenting values are right on -- it is inspiring me to pay greater attention to this, too.
posted by Malla at 1:39 PM on May 26, 2015

Most of this sounds like stuff that could be worked out easily between the two of you out of the kid's hearing. Your husband doesn't seem to understand the need for consistency and you don't sound very willing to let little stuff slide. That isn't a huge problem. When toddlers get mixed signals, it takes longer for them to accept the rules, but most toddler misbehavior is temporary anyway. Then you get a whole new set of older kid misbehavior to deal with.

My husband and I are somewhat reversed on this in that I'm more willing to let the kids get away with something "just this once" and my husband is more likely to stand firm, but the key for us is backing each other up even if we disagree. We may have a long argument in private afterward about whether whatever happened is okay, but in the heat of the moment, if Daddy says no, so do I. Even if I disagree. And vice versa. The kids know they can't appeal to one of us to overrule the other, even though we may sometimes come back to them later and tell the kids "we talked about it and we decided . . . " after a private discussion.

My concern is that based on your description of the backyard peeing incident, it doesn't sound like your husband trusts either your judgment or your honesty. If that's the case, that is a much more important thing to take care of than minor disagreements about how to get the kid to brush his teeth.
posted by Dojie at 1:42 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I tend to do more of the parenting in our house, and Short Story pretty much knows what to expect from me in terms of expectations and reactions. In the event that dad is in charge at any given time, SS often tries to circumvent dad's boundary by coming to me to complain about it. My answer is always "you have to do what dad said", even when both SS and I know that I would have handled the situation differently. Hubby and I both do this, to establish the rule now for later in life that we will not be divided and conquered.

However, Hubby and I have come to accept that neither of us is a parenting expert; that we are both learning as we go, and as such we both have the right to try new approaches. So when hubby says that "we" should handle something differently, I don't take it upon myself to make the change - I put him in charge of making the change, as well as handling the consequences if it doesn't work the way he thought it would. Want to change the sleeping arrangements? No problem, but you're getting up in the middle of the night if SS freaks out. Want to give him a new food that may be an allergen? No problem, just make sure you don't have a critical meeting at work tomorrow in case you need to take him to the doctor due to a bad reaction. Want to change discipline strategies? No problem, but you make sure you're here to follow through on the discipline part if he has a meltdown.

Honestly, when I handle it that way, there are times when hubby backs off, and there are times when his version totally works and we end up adopting it going forward. It gives him a lot of confidence as a father when that happens, because he knows that despite not having as much hands on practice in the day-to-day parenting he still made a positive contribution to our family as a whole. The point is, don't be afraid to try hubby's version of things, but make him follow through with the consequences of his decisions, rather than expecting you to implement his ideas for him.
posted by vignettist at 2:09 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

To be clear, teaching him to apologize for minor stuff when he's in learning mode is totally reasonable and sets the stage for a deeper understanding down the road!

Requiring him to apologize when he is very upset, and as a prerequisite for rejoining you, is what seems a bit much - if on any given day he's able to, great! It's just that it might not always be a reasonable expectation. This is where knowing your specific kid comes in - obviously you know him and his abilities better than we do.
posted by telepanda at 2:11 PM on May 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

My partner and I have had some disagreements about parenting - I disagree with some of the 'make verything a game' because *I* don't have time for that as primary carer who is working and as an expectation it messes up my routines, even if it is heaps fun for him and the kid. My partner has pulled me up on being too harsh on our kid too, or told me to go take some time out when I seem too on edge.

We don't have these discussions as the thing happens and we come from a place of respect for each other. We have both been primary carer, we both know the stress of that, so we work with each other to get to somewhere we want to be. And after we've had the big discussion the conversation in situ is just a reminder about that discussion. That it usually doesn't matter if bed time runs 10 minutes over because teeth-brushing took a while (and if it does because I have work to do then he will take over the rest of the routine). It's a reminder that playtime still needs to respect the space we share, and still needs to be mindful of 'no means no'. It's not having these discussions in front of her, it's reminding each other where the goalposts are.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:45 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you're doing fine. Except. When Dad is parenting, let Dad parent. Don't manage the interaction between Dad and son. Yeah, son can walk in the back yard, but it's okay for Dad to carry him. But when son is with you, stick to your own guns. Many parents have different parenting styles, kids do fine. When son says Daddy carries me, just say, Yes, he does, but I don't. Don't let your son play you against each other.

Except. Your husband is being pretty critical of you, when you are the primary caregiver. Make sure your husband has plenty of Dad time; it's good for kids to have 1:1 time with each parent, god for your husband to have a strong independent relationship with your son. I'd really talk to your husband about supporting you, not undermining your confidence.
posted by theora55 at 3:02 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think there may be a subtext here that husband feels you're calling all the shots and he has no real say in parenting (because he is rarely there and sensibly defers to your expertise). But when he doesn't agree with some of it he doesn't feel like he has an equal say.
Another sub text may be that for whatever reason he identifies strongly with his son as a little guy suffering under (in his eyes) too strict discipline. Was he raised by a strict disciplinarian? Is he playing out some childhood dynamic?
Is he feeling guilty about stuff and compensating that way?

All in all he seems to have teamed up with his own kid against Strict Mommy. He may be trying not to, but in his heart that's what's happening.
That's a terrible dynamic and damaging to all three of you.

So what I think would be most helpful is to sit down with your husband and let him feel heard. Figure out what's going on. And ask him how to get him back into Team Loving Parents. Tell him how it hurts you and makes your little guy insecure to see the Mommy is a Meany team up.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:06 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I am going to be quite frank here. My husband doesn't get a lot of one on one time with our son. At most it is just during a shower on my part. Unfortunately, when he does, my husband falls asleep! No joke. I come downstairs after my shower and my husband has fallen asleep on the floor and my son is usually behaving himself, but still. It ticks me off because what if...
If you want to look at my past asks you will see some golden nuggets about my MIL. So he may be dealing with some of that too. I don't know.
Either way, we will definitely have to work on supporting each other better.
posted by MayNicholas at 3:33 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you absolutely need to be on the same page with regards to discipline just because of mixed messages. You say your husband doesn't get much time with the child and may not understand some of these issues because you're the primary caregiver. I remember having issues with my husband not understanding exactly what it was like being around a toddler all day and sometimes being overly critical of my techniques.

You know what helped? I had a week stay in hospital with the birth of my second child so for the first time, my husband had to look after our son for longer than a few hours by himself - a week in fact. By the time I was home, not only was he totally exhausted and ready for a break, he had a much greater understanding of the challenges facing me and the reasons I made some of the decisions I did. All of a sudden I got a lot more respect for how difficult the job actually was. (This was a man who, when I asked for so much as a few hours away from my son to recharge, didn't get why I would need it and described my life as a SAHM as being a never ending holiday, and how lucky was I never having to do a day of work! Uh, yeah. He is enlightened and a completely different father and husband now though as a result.)

So your guy needs to spend some more time as the caregiver. Once he sees the cumulative effect of a lapse in toilet training or what happens when the kid is allowed to do whatever, you may be able to have a clearer conversation with a better idea of what needs to happen going forward. Doesn't mean you'll always both agree, but he gets the bigger picture. Good luck, it's great that you're working it out early on. Much better for your family particularly when you will be bringing a little one home soon.
posted by Jubey at 4:09 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I should add, by saying your husband should spend more time as the caregiver, I mean, you should go away for a weekend for a break and leave him with your son. You'll come back recharged, he'll get some valuable bonding time with the child and a better understanding of what is needed to discipline him (and it might not be the way you would do things!) and you can at least start having a conversation about where to go together from there.
posted by Jubey at 4:18 PM on May 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I was thinking some more about the dog poop, and your son is still a bit small, but maybe it's not too soon to start a bit of 'collaborative problem-solving'. This requires your kid to be pretty verbal. It'll work much better in a couple of years, but may as well start laying the groundwork as soon as you think he'll approximately understand.

So: The kid doesn't want to walk in the yard because the kid is afraid of poop. From your point of view, it's a trivial concern; but from his, it's a huge problem on par with eating dog-park-shoe-crumbs. The goal is to take his concerns seriously, but come up with a solution that works for both of you. (NB: don't do this if you're in a hurry, but it's a good thing to practice.)

The new refrain at our house is:
Mom: It looks like we have a problem. What do we do with a problem?
Kid: mutter mutter sulk
Mom: We SOLVE the problem! (once your kid understands humor, first suggest feeding the problem to a hippopotamus. but probably too soon for that.)

In your example, you could continue with:
Mom: OK. You don't want to walk in the yard because you are afraid of poop. But you are too big for me to carry. What can we do?
- I could walk 2 steps ahead and check for poop
- We could leave clean shoes by the door in case your shoes get dirty
- We could look at the ground before we take a step
- We could ask the dog poop not to get on our shoes
- ????

Basically, don't belittle his concern, but try to find a way forward without giving in. At first you'll make all the suggestions, but later on hopefully he'll contribute too. Again, this is going to come into play more down the road, but as he gets bigger, he will continue to have weird concerns/fears/whatever, and will have Increasingly Complicated Feelings to go with them. It's less about turning everything into a negotiation and more about teaching the kid how to deal with their wacked-out hangups and/or frustrations.
posted by telepanda at 5:44 PM on May 26, 2015

What's your plan when the baby is born and you need your husband to pitch in more with the toddler parenting? Is there another caretaker who's going to help with the early months? Now is actually a great time to trial-run so that all the caretakers are on the same page with general parenting standards (potty training and not eating food off the floor) and agree to relax about parenting style like how much toilet paper to use, so that when baby #2 arrives, you can focus on the newborn and sleep, and not have to worry about who's looking after the toddler.

Depending on where you live, dads can sometimes get leave ahead of the baby's birth as paternity-related leave, or he can take a couple of days' annual leave just to practice. He needs to be in charge of the toddler as the primary parent for more than a single day, and it'll be such a great special memory for him later on, and it'll help the toddler bond with dad ahead of the new sibling's arrival.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:27 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, daddy nap syndrome -'my naps are more important than parenting or household management or anything my partner or child do'. I fucking hate it, and my partner doesn't actually do it. It's not okay to habitually nap when you're looking after a child (unles they're napping too obvs), t's not okay that he doesn't actually spend time with his kid and when he does, he falls asleep. It means that he isn't interacting with the kid and he's not treating it as something important. So your problems are way more advanced than 'good cop/bad cop' and aren't going to be fixed by fixing this specific problem.

It is probably worth having him look after the child and the house for some extended period - along with the expectation that when you get back it won't be to a week's worth of laundry and dirty dishes, or that someone else has been looking after your kid for him, that a community has done that work instead of him - in order to calibrate what he experiences as parenting. Because right now his experience is very minimal.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:16 PM on May 26, 2015 [16 favorites]

Who is too soft or two hard is irrelevant. The more important issue is that your child is getting mixed messages. You both need to discuss this with each other (not when your son is present) and agree a united approach. How have you solved other issues on which you disagree? Use those skills.

Yep. Make a time to work out an agreed process that works for both of you, because you're quite possibly both right, it's just a matter of finding out how.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:05 PM on May 26, 2015

I think there are two equally important halves to parenting: what does the child need to grow up well, and what does the parent need to get through the day.

What I think your husband may not appreciate is that you spend 12-14 hours per day caring for this little person, and so you are dealing with every issue, big or small, while being pregnant and also having needs of your own. No one who does that is going to be a loosey-goosey fun parent. They are going to impose structure and rules to stay sane. When your husband swoops in to do his "babysitting" and undermines you work on that front he just makes your job harder.

I'm a working parent and I still manage to be sensitive about this effect with our nanny. I'll talk to her daily about what she's working on with the kids and make sure I'm supportive of her intitaitives. For example, my son loves to dump toys on the floor for fun/attention so she implemented a rule where he has to clean up any toys he has out before moving to the next activity. She told me about the behavior correction and I agreed with the strategy so I implement it when she's not there. I do this because it's important to give the kids consistent messages — either cleaning up is important or it isn't, it's not only important if the nanny is here and anything goes when she's not — and I want to support her so she's not dealing with "but mom said I don't have to clean up" the next day.

Your husband could and should do the same. He should be supporting the primary caregiver in their choices in this matter, with the caveat of course that you two have to have conversations about what is and isn't important. He does get to have an opinion about for example, forcing the kid to apologize or no, but he really should defer to you if you say "no, it really helps cut down on tantrums" or whatever.

If a particular discipline action is "just because" and doesn't make your life easier you should take a long hard look at it though. Picking battles will be oh so important when the new one arrives!
posted by annekate at 2:21 AM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Like politics and religion, everybody has an opinion when it comes to parenting and it is hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. As parents & families there are lot of variables which complicate our choices. So what works for me may not work for you so I won’t confuse things by focusing on your specific parenting style or choices but I will echo what some of the others have said though as I think it will help better than specific critiques from the likes of me.

It really is important to have a consistent message with your children and with your partner. If you haven’t already, you sound like a thoughtful person so I’m sure you have already, have some deep conversations about what parenting choices are right for you and your family. Be candid but clear, honest but not hurtful and forthright but from a place of love. Set achievable goals & rational rules that are important to you and your partner which will help your children to thrive & the household stay sane. Honest communication tempered by unconditional love will make a world of difference. Remember that you’re going to have days that are lousy but you’re also going to have spectacular & incredible days as well. In my experience the great days are what I remember best. A long conversation over a glass of wine, in my experience, will solve a myriad of problems down the road. Good luck!
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:17 AM on May 27, 2015

I agree with Geek Anachronism that "daddy naps" are not acceptable, and it might be a good idea to leave Husband in charge of the house and toddler for a weekend, so that he might be forced to tackle the harder, more quotidian parts of parenting that you are doing.

However, I want to suggest that Husband get himself to a doctor for a checkup if he can't get down on the floor to play with your toddler without conking out. This isn't normal, especially if he regularly gets at least 7 hours of sleep at night. If he doesn't get a good 7 hours most of the time, he needs to start. If he's getting adequate sleep at night and still naps at every opportunity, something is wrong - sleep apnea or medication issues or depression or who knows what - and a doctor should be able to fix that. With a toddler and new baby, you really are going to need Husband to step up and be an equal partner in parenting, and you definitely do not want him driving drowsy with kids in the car.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:54 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mom of a 7.5 y.o. and a 5.5 y.o. here, and everything you're doing with your son sounds like 100% reasonable and age-appropriate boundary setting. Good for you. The real issue I'm seeing here is you don't seem to have your husband's full support, and he seriously needs to knock that undermining you stuff off, stat. I mean, how dare he undermine your authority as a parent like that. He's creating more work for you, and he needs to get a clue about that, and start acting like he actually values your contributions to your family life right now. The SAHP is the one who does the lion's share of the caregiving work, and IMHO anyway, ought to have the right to be the Person In Charge and Head Decisionmaker as to pretty much everything regarding childrearing decisions, full stop. Input welcome from the WOHP, of course, but the one in the trenches gets to make the final call. Him napping while taking care of an awake and running around toddler? Oh hell no. He has a credibility problem now, and really should not be passive aggressively trying to school you about how to parent your child -- you are the clear expert here, and he needs to defer to you. Couples counseling can be a really helpful and proactive way to navigate these kinds of differences, especially given his particular family-of-origin issues. Good luck and don't be shy about taking charge in your own home!
posted by hush at 4:42 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

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