Psychotherapist Parenting Support Cork - Bethan O'Riordan

This weeks Ask Bethan: “My husband has an authoritarian approach and we battle on how to deal with children.  How can I help him?”

When couples initially meet, it’s usually because they share similar values and ethos.  Whether it’s spending money, how they enjoy their time together and life goals there is usually a middle ground with a little bit of leeway either side.  When children add to the mix things change.  There are no set rules on how to parent, but when I meet couples whose parenting styles differ, one or both parties have very fixed ideas on how parenting should be in their household. We know that authoritative parenting styles are a repeat of a parent’s childhood experiences (here’s a great book to read more about this by Bethany Saltman) and I would always be curious about how helpful this is for creating the relationship you’d like to have with your child.

Perhaps your partner has read extensively around parenting, explored the up-to-date research around parenting practices and this is where his confidence in his parenting style comes from.  But my experience (and the research shows us) that parents who are authoritarian in their parenting style grew up in a strict household themselves so they don’t know another way of parenting.

Our brains are unique in that we find safety in what is familiar rather than what is helpful for us.  I’m wondering if your style of parenting is new for your husband and because of this it might be perceived as “weak, letting the kids get away with too much or disrespectful” (some of the common phrases I hear in the therapy room).

All parenting opinions are valid when parents are working towards defining a parenting style that works for their family.  Are your concerns borne from seeing the impact that his parenting style is having on your children?  And have you verbalised this to him?  Authoritarian parenting styles will create a distance in the relationship your husband has with his children.  Fear doesn’t promote closeness.  Can your husband see this?  And is he ok with this? I get the impression that you are working hard trying to keep peace, be a wife, a mother and perhaps at times be a negotiator for all parties too.

I meet many couples who come for a one of session to talk through their parenting styles and reach middle ground. It’s so important because parents don’t have to be identical in their parenting approaches.  Children are looking for consistent and predictable relationships where they know how boundaries and safety looks, feels and sounds within their family.

My husband and I had to do work around this when we became parents.  The need for us to find that common ground came to light when our first born was a toddler and starting speaking and behaving in ways that we had to understand.  There are no other team type scenarios where there isn’t extensive work put into communication and team building to ensure the desired outcome is achieved.

It might help if you and your husband think about what kind of children you are trying to raise and work backwards from there to be honest about if that will happen based on how they are communicated with and what sort of relationships are being built with them.

I’m delighted that you are flagging this and hope that your husband also sees that there is room for development in your family.  This is exactly what children are looking for.  Having parents at opposite ends of the parenting spectrum is confusing for children and counter active in helping your child get a good sense of emotional safety and identity.

Children don’t need perfect parents but they do need parents who are willing to change systems and patterns that aren’t helpful.  This then teaches children that we all have the power to change.

If you would like to explore parenting and make sure you’re offering your children what they need, book your one hour parenting consultation or join the Calm Parenting Club which is free for 30 days. You can also get your free 5 Steps to Calmer Parenting to help you parent with ease.

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