My husband is a softie

Posted by David Beard, Globe Staff  December 23, 2008 06:24 AM

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The following is a Boston.com readers' query during a Q&A with Child Caring writer Barbara Meltz:

Question: My husband and I often talk about our parenting ideas, and we usually see eye to eye. But when it comes time to walk the walk, he's a big old softie. For one, I come out looking like the bad guy; and two, I am sure it's very confusing for the kids.

The oldest is almost 3 -- so I want to fix this before #2 gets wise to what's going on. I may tend to be stricter... but I feel that when we are together she knows she can get what she wants from him. Any advice or past columns on this subject? Thanks.

Barbara Meltz: Boy, this feels familiar! I think all parents go through something like it and, yes, sometime ago I wrote a column on this subject. Gee, was it based on personal experience?! While it is very common (and hard to avoid) parental dififerences in styles, when you aren't together on philosophies, or when it always seems to one of you as if you get into a rut like you are describing, it's not healthy for any of you.

Meanwhile, I assume your husband is aware of this trend....that he's the softie? that she will learn to work the two of you against each other? If you're both aware of the pitfalls, you have a much better chance of working things out.

But there's also this: When there's lots of inconsistency between parents in limit-setting and in consequences, it fuels a child to push the limits even more, because it confuses them. It's almost as if they are saying to themselves, "I know what I have to do to get mom to pay attention, but what about dad? Does this get his attention? What about this?"

Do you agree with Barbara's advice? Have your say in our comments section.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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15 comments so far...
  1. It's important to distinguish the difference between styles and philosophies. My wife and I have different approaches, but we get the same results and set the same expectations.

    Posted by Frank57 December 23, 08 03:00 PM
  1. Excuse me, but what is Barbara's advice? I could not find any in the entry above...

    Posted by HBX December 23, 08 03:27 PM
  1. I hate to say this (and it is really hard to admit) but I am living the consequences of exactly this situation. I was always forced into the position of the stricter parent and this has led to a few not-so-pleasant results. My children view me as the "bad guy" while Dad is the one who is all about fun. I am resentful of my role. I have a teenager who bucks every single limit that is set upon them and makes it a very personal struggle with just me! So much easier if this had been settled earlier!
    If I had one piece of advice for you - set your limits NOW and back each other up!! Any disagreements between you can be settled later - out of earshot of your child!

    Posted by Tessa December 23, 08 03:33 PM
  1. It would be good to learn that parenting is about more than limit setting!

    Posted by ann December 23, 08 03:59 PM
  1. sometimes I think kids are better off with one parent

    Posted by DB Coach December 23, 08 04:06 PM
  1. But parenting is mostly about limit setting! Kids by nature are pushing the limits and for most parents, most of the time, parenting is limit setting. Parenting is also about expanding horizons, teaching and learning, strengthening and empowering - but an important part of even those things is setting limits. If you can't live with that grim reality of parenting, don't have children - for their sake and for the sake of all of us who have to live with children/adults who have no limits.

    Posted by NancyG December 23, 08 10:28 PM
  1. Parents who are unwilling to set limits firmly have NO idea what a little Monster they are creating. That includes both parents.

    1-3 hours of a little Johnny meltdown down is nothing compared to a lifetime of problems because your child never learned what NO means. Every kids needs to have a meltdown, they POP and then they recover just fine with an understanding that they can NOT do whatever they want. It's worth it trust me, and guaranteed they're meltdown will eventually POP and be they'll be OK. It's up to the parents to have the will power to make it through the meltdown with out giving in.

    Posted by gman December 23, 08 11:31 PM
  1. there has to be central authority on parents, one has to have full control, husband should lead hisfamily to good morales and discipline

    Posted by junko December 24, 08 12:00 AM
  1. there has to be central authority on parents, one has to have full control, husband should lead hisfamily to good morales and discipline

    Posted by junko December 24, 08 12:00 AM
  1. It can also be that one parent chooses to always be the bad guy, regardless of need, in case after case after case. Not flying off the handle at every little thing does not make one a softie.

    Posted by David December 30, 08 03:52 PM
  1. Are you willing to change and lighten up a little? Why is it that the husband is a "softie" instead of you being too much of a strict hard a$$?

    Posted by Mikey "Insane" Monkeypants December 30, 08 04:52 PM
  1. The "softie Dad" may come to regret his attitude at some later point. If Mom is absent or sick for some reason one day (or series of days), and Dad is trying to keep control over a situation that is spiraling out of control, and no one is listening to his admonitions..... won't he wish he had learned how to make the children respect his word earlier on?

    Posted by Molly December 31, 08 03:20 AM
  1. TELL ME ABOUT IT...my wife believes that they should be told what the punishment is before hand. I strongly disagree, as I believe that gives them the option to choose if it is worth it. So now the 20, soon to be 21 is still being suckled and it drives me up the wall, and the soon to be 18 yr old thinks she has no one to answer to and what she says goes.
    But, as my wife reminds all to often, these are not my kids (stepchildren). I simply reply, but this is also my house.
    Thank you for valium.

    Posted by technec December 31, 08 11:54 AM
  1. I agree with Barbara that consistency is the most important. Even if you disagree with your husband, you can not be seen overriding him in front of your kids. Nor can he be seen overriding you. If you say no, he can not then say yes. And if he says yes, you can not then say no. Discuss together where the limits should be, but not in front of your kids.

    Posted by Deb January 2, 09 11:51 AM
  1. Yea, I'm married to one of those too -- a man who sticks his head in the sand and ignores all misbehavior by our child, no matter how outrageous it is. I finally came to the conclusion that dead daddy is probably high, or brain-dead, to be so stupid. So I dragged Daddy to couples counseling, just so I could try to shock him into "parenting". It was useless. Daddy never changed. I just sat there and complained for nothing, one hour a week! So I quit work, and stayed home full-time so head-in--the-sand Daddy could not let our child run wild and misbehave to the point where his personality is ruined. It worked pretty well -- my son is very well behaved around everyone EXCEPT his father (but hey, his dad deserved that, right?). But if my son turns into an out-of-control teenager (thanks to his father) I am moving out, and leaving them both to their own devices.

    Posted by Married2oneOFthose2 January 2, 09 11:01 PM
 
15 comments so far...
  1. It's important to distinguish the difference between styles and philosophies. My wife and I have different approaches, but we get the same results and set the same expectations.

    Posted by Frank57 December 23, 08 03:00 PM
  1. Excuse me, but what is Barbara's advice? I could not find any in the entry above...

    Posted by HBX December 23, 08 03:27 PM
  1. I hate to say this (and it is really hard to admit) but I am living the consequences of exactly this situation. I was always forced into the position of the stricter parent and this has led to a few not-so-pleasant results. My children view me as the "bad guy" while Dad is the one who is all about fun. I am resentful of my role. I have a teenager who bucks every single limit that is set upon them and makes it a very personal struggle with just me! So much easier if this had been settled earlier!
    If I had one piece of advice for you - set your limits NOW and back each other up!! Any disagreements between you can be settled later - out of earshot of your child!

    Posted by Tessa December 23, 08 03:33 PM
  1. It would be good to learn that parenting is about more than limit setting!

    Posted by ann December 23, 08 03:59 PM
  1. sometimes I think kids are better off with one parent

    Posted by DB Coach December 23, 08 04:06 PM
  1. But parenting is mostly about limit setting! Kids by nature are pushing the limits and for most parents, most of the time, parenting is limit setting. Parenting is also about expanding horizons, teaching and learning, strengthening and empowering - but an important part of even those things is setting limits. If you can't live with that grim reality of parenting, don't have children - for their sake and for the sake of all of us who have to live with children/adults who have no limits.

    Posted by NancyG December 23, 08 10:28 PM
  1. Parents who are unwilling to set limits firmly have NO idea what a little Monster they are creating. That includes both parents.

    1-3 hours of a little Johnny meltdown down is nothing compared to a lifetime of problems because your child never learned what NO means. Every kids needs to have a meltdown, they POP and then they recover just fine with an understanding that they can NOT do whatever they want. It's worth it trust me, and guaranteed they're meltdown will eventually POP and be they'll be OK. It's up to the parents to have the will power to make it through the meltdown with out giving in.

    Posted by gman December 23, 08 11:31 PM
  1. there has to be central authority on parents, one has to have full control, husband should lead hisfamily to good morales and discipline

    Posted by junko December 24, 08 12:00 AM
  1. there has to be central authority on parents, one has to have full control, husband should lead hisfamily to good morales and discipline

    Posted by junko December 24, 08 12:00 AM
  1. It can also be that one parent chooses to always be the bad guy, regardless of need, in case after case after case. Not flying off the handle at every little thing does not make one a softie.

    Posted by David December 30, 08 03:52 PM
  1. Are you willing to change and lighten up a little? Why is it that the husband is a "softie" instead of you being too much of a strict hard a$$?

    Posted by Mikey "Insane" Monkeypants December 30, 08 04:52 PM
  1. The "softie Dad" may come to regret his attitude at some later point. If Mom is absent or sick for some reason one day (or series of days), and Dad is trying to keep control over a situation that is spiraling out of control, and no one is listening to his admonitions..... won't he wish he had learned how to make the children respect his word earlier on?

    Posted by Molly December 31, 08 03:20 AM
  1. TELL ME ABOUT IT...my wife believes that they should be told what the punishment is before hand. I strongly disagree, as I believe that gives them the option to choose if it is worth it. So now the 20, soon to be 21 is still being suckled and it drives me up the wall, and the soon to be 18 yr old thinks she has no one to answer to and what she says goes.
    But, as my wife reminds all to often, these are not my kids (stepchildren). I simply reply, but this is also my house.
    Thank you for valium.

    Posted by technec December 31, 08 11:54 AM
  1. I agree with Barbara that consistency is the most important. Even if you disagree with your husband, you can not be seen overriding him in front of your kids. Nor can he be seen overriding you. If you say no, he can not then say yes. And if he says yes, you can not then say no. Discuss together where the limits should be, but not in front of your kids.

    Posted by Deb January 2, 09 11:51 AM
  1. Yea, I'm married to one of those too -- a man who sticks his head in the sand and ignores all misbehavior by our child, no matter how outrageous it is. I finally came to the conclusion that dead daddy is probably high, or brain-dead, to be so stupid. So I dragged Daddy to couples counseling, just so I could try to shock him into "parenting". It was useless. Daddy never changed. I just sat there and complained for nothing, one hour a week! So I quit work, and stayed home full-time so head-in--the-sand Daddy could not let our child run wild and misbehave to the point where his personality is ruined. It worked pretty well -- my son is very well behaved around everyone EXCEPT his father (but hey, his dad deserved that, right?). But if my son turns into an out-of-control teenager (thanks to his father) I am moving out, and leaving them both to their own devices.

    Posted by Married2oneOFthose2 January 2, 09 11:01 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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