“Dad lets me”.. or worse, “Dad doesn’t make me cry like you do..” (Ouch!) If I hear either phrase one more time, I just might blow a gasket. True confession: I have already blown several gaskets and my "little engine that could" is in the shop right now.
What do you do when your parenting style and temperament differs from that of your mate, and you constantly feel like bad cop to their good cop? What do you do with feeling frustrated and angry with your kids and bitter toward your spouse? I’m a licensed MFT with 20 years of experience counseling individuals, couples and families and yet, I don’t have the answer to this right now. So, I am doing the, “What would I say to a client?” thing to try to gain some personal perspective. To start, I would probably empathize with how frustrating this is, and how it *feels* unfair, but I would also discourage blaming the partner for being who they are, and the kids for being well, kids. I would probably join my client by saying, “This stuff isn’t easy is it?” I would validate the struggle to set clear boundaries and expectations with kids while showing them unconditional love. I would validate that the intention to raise responsible, considerate, respectful individuals is a worthy and noble pursuit, and one that is worthy to feel passionately about. I would gently probe into what hurts the most about what is happening. So here it goes: What really hurts is I don’t like conflict in relationships. I REALLY don’t like my kids thinking I’m mean and unloving toward them! Don’t they know I would walk through fire.. AND clean up all manner of body fluids AND go without anything so they could have what they need? Answer: No they don’t. They are kids, not parents. Their consciousness is focused on what’s to eat, how can I get a B in English and still have a social life, and how long can I put off loading the dishwasher before my screen time gets taken away. Note to self: I may have to examine my expectations about their cognitive/emotional maturity while I also try not to take it personally that they don’t /can’t think or love like me yet. Let’s see, what else hurts: I feel unsupported by my spouse. I feel abandoned to do the heavy lifting by myself. What does this tap into? I’ve been through some REALLY hard things in my history, and felt very alone at times. I want my partner to make it easier for me (I know, that’s my job). I want my spouse to “get it” to feel what I’m feeling. What’s underneath that? I want my partner to be on “team discipline" WITH me. Without this, it feels like ( AKA, *I FEAR* ) we will be divided and conquered, and our marriage and our kids will suffer. This wife and mom has a very hard time with that. What would you want your loved ones to understand? When I get upset, please don’t think I’m JUST being a witch* who is critical and angry at not getting her way (though that’s in there too, and I humbly admit it). I am mostly REALLY trying to stand up for something vital and precious to me. Our marriage team, our family, and the character of our kids are things that I feel very strongly about. They are worth fighting for, and I’m not going to stop. Even if it means fighting WITH THEM.
What am I willing to do differently? I will try and watch my words and tone, so the message that I love you all passionately doesn’t get lost in all that verbal intensity and negativity! Is there anything else you need or want from your family? Yes, one more thing, Would you sometimes please try to read between the lines, when I don’t do that last part very well? When I do get fearful and/or angry, lose my temper, utter not-so-sweet words. I know behavior like this doesn't cause very loving *feelings* toward a person, but please tell me our love is about more than feelings. I really can’t bear the thought that my intense love for you is read as the opposite, or somehow because I'm overwhelmed with the importance of functioning well in my roles that this ends up causing emotional or relational harm! In a word, I am asking for Grace, unmerited, and undeserved though it might be, and I promise to give the same in return.