A question I see often from parents who are interested in gentle parenting is how to let their spouse in on the secret and get them to see parenting differently.
The hardest thing about the light-bulb moment is that once it happens you never see parenting the same again which is wonderful, except if your spouse still practices authoritarian parenting, then it can be quite painful watching your child go through something that you know is not right.
Not many parents know how to drop the bomb that they want to practice gentle parenting, in most households its a very hot topic and just the words ‘gentle’ and ‘parent’ together are enough to cause an uproar with scenarios of children running amuck causing havoc and parents idly standing by too scared to ‘stand up’ to their children. This is not what gentle parenting is about but unfortunately not many people know or understand this so be ready to be met with some resistance.. did I say some.. I meant A LOT of resistance. For now, let the naysayers nay, its not important, what is important is getting you and your spouse on the same page and the rest can wait.
There are not a lot of people who instantly embrace change so you will want to scatter the bomb more than drop it… small hints here and there slowly over time and let the idea build in his head. I know too many parents who have dropped the bomb all at once and their husband has freaked out and its made their life very difficult! So by all means, please do not do that! For example, if you were previously practicing authoritarian parenting you might want to do some research on negative impacts of authoritarian parenting on children and then do some research on positive impacts of gentle parenting on children (I will put a few links at the end of this article) and one day in a very causal way you might want to mention to him that you came across this article today that said how for the last 60 years they have been doing studies on children about the effects of authoritarian parenting (spanking) and they have said that according to their studies kids tend to do more of the behavior they are being disciplined against (if there are any persistent issues that you have faced with your kids where you have noticed spanking them has not worked then you might want to drop that in there e.g “I can believe that because you know how hard its been trying to get (child) to stop doing (behavior) and he still does it”). This is a ‘testing the waters’ stage so do not engage in argument or debate, listen to his views and do not disagree with them at all. You want to gather as much information as you can about exactly where he is at so you can go back and do research based directly on his view point.
Once you know where he is at with regards to what his opinions are against gentle parenting you can then go back and do your research to counter his opinions and when the time is right you can go back to him and let him know that you were thinking about what he said and did some reading on it and this is what you have read, again, be very careful not to get into an argument about this because the minute an argument starts you can be sure he will shut down. If you feel things starting to heat up at all, quickly do damage control and get off the subject!
As part of the ‘scattering the bomb’ process you can slowly start tackling issues one by one in your day to day lives – choose one area that you would like to change and slowly start implementing changes. Be very careful to not try and change too many things at once because that will rock the boat a bit too much and make your husband feel out of control and you want to avoid that. For example, if you toddler gets smacked because he/she is at the tantrum stage then act as an intermediate between your toddler and husband, if you see your toddler starting to act up try and get in there as quickly but non-invasively as possible and calm the situation. You do not want your husband to feel you are butting in so you will need to be tactful in how you do this. If you do not manage to stop the tantrum before it happens then try and get your husband to understand the reason for the tantrum while at the same time acknowledging and validating your husbands feelings so that he does not get offended. You can say something like ‘Isn’t it frustrating when (child) throws his food around, i’m sure you’re feeling very annoyed but he didn’t sleep well/teething/hasnt eaten properly today and is feeling out of sorts let me take him and you relax’. You will need to get creative and switch it up from time to time otherwise he will know something is up.
Another thing you will want to avoid is making a too big a step all at once – dont expect your spouse who practiced authoritarian parenting to suddenly love the idea of gentle parenting which is the complete opposite, you have to break it down for them – drop little hints about the benefits of time out (or any other gentler form of discipline) and then ask him how he feels about it and slowly get him used to the idea, once he is comfortable with not spanking and you are using time-outs for example then you can work on the next stage. Expect some resistance from him and dont try to force it, a wise person knows that the way to cook a frog is by turning up the heat slowly, too much at once and the frog will jump out.
A few quick tips:
To make this process easier please keep complaints about your childs behaviour minimum to nil, that will only get your husband riled up and ready to snap at the first incident of misbehavior.
Do not expect your husband to read dozens of articles, very few men actually like to read article after article and the ones that do like reading articles will maybe read one or two and then give up – rather you do the research and make a note of the points you think will appeal to him and then tell him those things when there are no distractions so he actually listens to you and is willing to engage in conversation.
Again, be ready for resistance and do not fight it! If things are getting tense, do damage control and drop it on a good note and pick it up again at a later stage. Getting into an argument will only be two steps backwards. Studies prove that when we argue with people the only thing we do is reinforce their thinking to them because that is what they focus on during an argument.
Do not get family and/or friends involved in this until you are both on the same page, if your family and friends disagree with you and it turns into an argument you will more than likely loose. There are far more authoritarian parents than there are gentle parents and you dont want them to turn your spouse off the idea with their negative comments about kids running wild. If you are lucky enough to have friends who practice gentle parenting then you could perhaps speak to them about it when you and your husband are alone with them and get them to encourage your husband.
Even once your spouse starts to accept gentle parenting do not expect him to never have fallbacks into his old way of parenting, apply the same principles to him that you would to your child – be patient, be understanding and keep communication open between you two. Always be ready to step in and help out in a parenting situation that you can see is getting tense but do not take over, rather ask your spouse if he would like you to take the child outside or to the room for a break so that your child and your husband can calm down and be respectful of his parenting decisions while he is adjusting even if it means enduring something you dont agree with – if your spouse starts to feel disrespected and like he is no longer in control he will revert back.
If you are having particular luck with gentle parenting in a certain area then if you see your spouse struggling to get a good response in that same area or similar area you can always ‘casually’ let him know what works for you e.g “I gave up smacking him for touching (object) because I wasn’t seeing any change from that but I’ve found if i give him something more appropriate to play with he quickly forgets about (object)” and obviously you can adapt that to suit your situation.
I am always interested in hearing from other moms experience how they have handled situations so if you have any tips that i have not included please do comment and let me know! I hope that some of the advice here has been useful for you and i know how challenging this journey can be but dont give up, success is right around the corner!
some links for reading: