QUESTION: I have a 10-year-old
daughter. My husband always challenges my parental authority in front
of her. When my husband is around, I feel completely ineffective as
a parent. I am stuck playing the bad guy, while my husband gets to play
the good guy. How can I make my husband understand that his behavior
is damaging our daughter?
ANSWER: You are right to be
concerned. Your husband's criticism of your parenting in your daughter's
presence undermines both your effectiveness as a parental team and your
relationship with your daughter.
Negotiate appropriate guidelines with your husband
concerning parenting. Require that negotiations between parents take
place separately from your child. Invite him to disagree with you
in private, where the two of you have an opportunity to hear each
others' feelings and opinions about what is in your daughter's best
interest. Once you have had time to discuss differences, you may find
that you are not as far apart as you thought on what is best for your
child. Then you will be able to give your daughter clear direction
that does not involve her in your marital conflict!
Your husband's constant challenge to your parenting
that results in his being the "good guy" is not only damaging to your
daughter, but to the marriage. Remind your husband that he is married
to you, not your daughter. Your relationship is the foundation for
your daughter's development, including her eminent separation from
the two of you as she grows older. The stronger your bond is, the
easier it will be for her to develop her independence without guilt.
Involving her in discussion of who is "right" and who is "wrong" can
not only confuse her with respect to what the rules are in the home,
but more importantly it can compound her relationship to both of you.
If this pattern of triangulation in your parental
conflict continues, your daughter may resort to manipulation in order
to get what she wants, but the emotional result will be that she has
Daddy on her side against Mommy. This cripples the affection she can
feel for Mom and puts her in a potentially psychologically incestual
relationship with Dad. (that is: she experiences closeness to Dad
at the expense of her Mother's feelings of hurt/dismissal) Neither
of these positions is in her best interest, as she is at risk for
loss of an appropriate relationship to either parent.
Be honest with yourself. Are you willing to give
your husband's opinions full consideration? Have you in any way contributed
to his not seeking you out for discussion by blocking any of his perceptions
when he has tried to discuss his views with you?
Assure your husband that he has legitimacy as a parent
and that you are willing to hear his way of looking at a situation.
It is his job, as it is yours, to help you identify your own "blind
spots". For example, if he feels your "timing" is off in your directions
to your daughter, ask him for constructive alternatives and suggestions.
But refuse to accept further discussion or discounting in front of
your daughter. It is through discussion that the two of you have opportunity
to grow closer and feel your importance to your spouse. This sense
of importance to one another in your primary bond as parents contributes
to affection in the marriage. And an atmosphere of affection and respect
in turn promotes problem-solving!
You may also benefit from exploring the roles that
each of your sets of parents played in your respective childhoods.
How was conflict handled between your parents? Were there "good" guys
and "bad" guys in your family histories? Were spouses committed to
respecting one another's opinions and feelings or did they triangulate
children or others in order to get their way? Did fathers and mothers
work together as a parenting team or give conflicting messages to
Your couples' relationship needs strengthening. Part
of getting back on track is treating the marital bond as a primary
one. Remember that your child will not only benefit from your solidity
as a couple, but your marriage relationship will be more likely to
endure through the time when your daughter has flown the nest and
you are left facing each other!
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