This week, I gave two talks at a preschool near me. This was the first time that a director intentionally served both stay-at-home parents and working parents by asking me to speak in the morning and then come back again in the evening.
As you can imagine, I love being in my element, doing “my thing.” It brings me such great joy to help parents understand their children a little better and forge a better relationship with them. What was unique about both of these talks however, was the fact that in each of them, a Dad chose to attend!
This is rare in my talks, as they usually are attended by moms. Perhaps dads are busy at work, or perhaps the mom takes charge of seeking things that will make family life better. Whatever the reasons, having a dad join me is rare but valuable. I really appreciated these two dads that attended. They brought a wonderful element to our discussions.
Often in my talks, the moms will express their frustrations with things that happen in their homes. Sometimes those frustrations center around issues between them and their husband.
It’s dinnertime/end of the work day, dad walks in the door to chaos. Mom’s nerves are frayed from being home with the kids all day and the kids are showing various symptoms of the household stress – bouncing off the walls, fighting, resisting homework, whining, etc. Mom just wants Dad to come in and rescue her! But instead, Dad’s arrival home ends up making things worse. Instead of adding a calming element, he might add his own tension from the work day or start coming down hard on the kids trying to restore some order in the house. This sets everyone off even more.
Mom and Child are having an argument/issue/power struggle. Mom has been at it with Child for a while. Dad has been trying to bite his tongue but just can’t take it anymore. He bursts into the room and begins to yell at Child and issue threats and punishments. Child is now not only struggling with Mom but is also struggling with Dad. Child may at this point whine, cry, yell, talk back or run out of the room, leaving Mom exhausted and now upset with Dad on top of it all.
The first one was shared at my talk this week (and with many parents previously). The second one happened frequently in my own home with my husband and kids. What the dads in my workshop this week really conveyed, at least to me and hopefully to the other moms there, is how desperately they want to support their wives. They just are at a loss as to how to do it.
There is One Secret Ingredient to navigating these sticky situations.
Want to know what it is?
Communication, plain and simple. From what I observe, moms (for the most) part don’t realize that their husbands are just trying to help. They feel frustrated that their husband comes in trying to control the situation and only intensifies it. All of this is an attempt from the dad to support his partner and try to help. But as I have written many times before, trying to control our child DOES NOT WORK. It may, might, maybe sometimes, occasionally work in the very short-term, but ultimately this is not the way.
So, what’s a dad to do?
COMMUNICATE with his wife. And conversely the wife needs to communicate with her husband.
A mom at one of my talks this week shared what she and her husband stumbled upon that works really well in their home. And maybe it will work for you! When he comes home from work, it is the end of a long day. She is usually tired at that time and the kids are wound up. Her husband has a very demanding job and he is “on” all the time, even at home. But they found that if he turns his phone off and literally puts it in the cabinet for 10-15 minutes as soon as he walks through the door, magic begins.
He takes his two daughters down to the basement and they spend that time playing dolls, talking about their days, playing hide-n-seek. Whatever the girls want to do. Then his wife can go upstairs quietly, ALONE and straighten up, fold laundry, get dinner started, etc. But she has those few minutes of peace and quiet to recharge after a long day of being “on” all the time with her kids. This has the added bonus of giving the girls time with and attention from their daddy. The benefits of this precious time are innumerable. Getting that kind of pure attention from a dad for a little girl returns dividends to the girl that will carry her through life. Literally. It teaches her how males should treat females and teaches her what healthy attention looks and feels like from a male. This is priceless for girls. Especially in our #metoo era.
What my husband and I came to in the second scenario is that his desire is to “help” me, to “bail me out” when he sees me struggling with one of our kids and feels like I need to be rescued. He is trying to “back me up” and take my side “against” our child. This ended up in the child getting more upset with my husband and me feeling furious with him for interfering.
You guessed it – COMMUNICATE.
By talking it through, he was able to help me to understand his desire to help me when he saw me struggling. Or even when he perceived that I was struggling when I might not have felt that way. He didn’t know what to do, and in a desperate attempt to help, he would come in and start yelling or threatening to take away devices, etc. The child I was having the “moment” with would get upset or cry or talk back or run out of the room. He would then be upset at the disrespect our child displayed, the child would be upset with him and I would be furious with him. No one won in that Dysfunctional Dance.
As we talked and understood each other more, he came to understand that sometimes I actually do need to be “bailed out” of a difficult interaction. But other times, I am in full control of myself and mindfully working through a situation with our child. This might look on the outside like the child is in control of the situation, or maybe even out of control. But in those cases, I might be allowing the child to express themselves and to get out whatever their frustration is. Not taking their sharp tone with me personally. Allowing that energy to move through their bodies.
Often, this is very productive, but may look to others as if the parent has lost control. When these times occur, I follow up with my child on how upset they were, and we talk about kinder ways they could have expressed their struggles. But in the moment, I very often allow the yelling or complaining or sharp tone.
My husband now understands this. But that was not quite enough. We came up with this great analogy of a track relay team that passes the baton from one to another. My husband and I ARE a team. Sometimes we need to pass the baton off to the other parent. And sometimes the other parent needs to lovingly and gently “take” the baton from us.
What we have agreed to is that if the other parent offers to “take” the baton from us, unless they are completely reading the situation wrong, we allow them to take the baton and bail us out. If we really feel we are in control of the situation, we gently say that we don’t need to pass it off at the moment. Other times, we have agreed that if the other parent calls to us and asks us to please “take the baton,” we will then step in and interact with the child to see if we can navigate the situation better.
The important thing is that the parent who steps in MUST step in with calmness inside of them. They simply do nothing useful if they bring even more intensity than the other parent had already.
What I hope these moms at my talks understood is these two dads’ genuine desire to support their wives, but just not knowing how to do it. And I hope these two dads understood what challenges their wives may face while they are at work all day.
Does this give you any ideas in your family?
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