In the beginning, I didn’t realize how different the parenting styles of my husband and I were. We wanted to imbue our children with the same values (kindness, respect for others, enthusiasm for learning) and had the same goals (getting them out of the house and independent enough to schedule their own doctor’s appointments by the time they graduate).
When your children are babies, let’s face it, there’s not a lot of actual parenting that goes on. Aside from loving them unconditionally, at that stage parenting is mostly care-taking: changing diapers, wiping runny noses, and the like. Yet, at that point, we still had the same values (discussing how our children were the cutest on earth) and goals (getting them to sleep for more than two hours at a time).
The first year or two, we rarely disagreed. We had the same opinions on baby-wearing (great for naps), breastfeeding (free food), and vaccines (as many as advisable, as soon as possible). But as our children grew from babies to toddlers, things began to change.
I sewed the boys handmade stuffed animals. He brought home Hot Wheels with names like “Blade Raider” emblazoned on the sides. I read them "Peter Rabbit." He introduced them to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When their wrists stretched past their sleeves this fall, we both bought them new shirts. Mine had pictures of polar bears and foxes on them. His were football jerseys.
I’ll give you one guess which ones they preferred.
When I was discussing the idea for this article with my husband (after all, it’s a good idea to check in before writing publicly about disagreeing with your spouse’s parenting style), I tried to give him examples of how we differed.
“You know, things like how I cook them oatmeal for breakfast and you give them Pop-Tarts.”
“But they like Pop-Tarts!” He retorted.
Therein lay the problem. The first year or two was mine to call the shots. I chose who I saw for my pregnancy (midwife), what kind of births to have (one with an epidural, two without), and what baby food to feed them (homemade). But as they became toddlers, I had to cede control.
The kids were growing up. My husband introduced them to baseball, soccer, and basketball. Having been a hopeless athlete as a kid, I preferred our backyard time to be unstructured play. Whereas I had wanted to minimize brand influences to encourage their own creativity, my husband was excited to bring them into the world of Superman and Wonder Woman. While I tried to minimize screen-time (or at least I told myself I did), he bonded with them over Mario Kart.
(“It’s not Mario Kart,” he will tell me upon reading this article. “I don’t know the names of any other video games,” I'll reply).
The simple, natural childhood I pictured for my children was shifting. The one where they sat peacefully on the floor playing with wooden blocks and listening to indie kids' music was fading away. The one where they jumped off the couch yelling, “Cowabunga, dude!” was becoming a reality.
(“You’re the one who lets them jump off the couch, not me,” my husband will point out. “I’m trying to illustrate a point,” I’ll say. “Besides, where do you think they got the idea?”)
I couldn’t put my finger on what I found so annoying about this situation. Was I worried about losing my sweet and innocent boys? Hurt that they always seemed to prefer their dad’s interests over mine? Did I truly feel my way was better?
After all, had I been parenting 50 or even 30 years ago, I would've had complete say over what my kids wore, ate, and read. He would've been in his office, oblivious to what was going on with the kids. They would've been completely under my domain, and shouldering that burden alone would have frustrated me even more than having to share it.
Besides, his way isn’t really so objectionable. Sports provided some structure to the boys' boundless energy. Their love of superheroes gave us the opportunity to discuss the importance of standing up for those who need help. The more I thought about it, the more I realized we could instill the same values and achieve the same goals whether we went with my naturalistic approach or my husband’s more conventional one. Sometimes I even wondered if I truly thought my way was better, or if I simply wanted to fit in with the parenting trends of the moment.
At the end of the day, I think my frustrations might be more centered on them preferring their dad’s world over my own. Every parent dreams of passing on their interests to their child. To see those interests passed over can sting a bit. In all honesty, the more they turn out to be like their dad, the happier I am. He's a wonderful person and, as far as I’m concerned, the more like him they are, the better.
(“Yeah, I don’t care if you write about that,” he told me. “Just as long as you really emphasize that last part,” he said smiling.)
In the end, we can’t control who our children will become. In a year or two when they enter school, they'll have a whole new world of influences. All we can do is point them in the direction we want them to go and hope that the path they inevitably choose instead is still a good one.
It takes a village!
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