My wife and I have very different parenting styles, which my kids have picked up on. She’s not very nurturing with the kids and pretty much bosses them around all day long. By the time I get home from work, they don’t listen to her and come tell me things about their day. I feel bad for them because I’m basically having the same experience as them in my marriage to her. I feel like she’s constantly critical of me as well. I don’t want to put her down in front of the kids, but they have a point. How should I respond to them when they come and talk to me about their negative experiences with their mom?
I recommend you ask your wife how she suggests you talk with the kids about their experiences with her. My guess is that she has no idea they’re feeling this way. She deserves a chance to repair things with them.
It’s also important for you to pull yourself out of the middle so you don’t bring your marriage drama into their relationship with their mom. You are hurting in your marriage and when your kids express the same feelings you’re having of not being respected or understood, it’s tempting to get sucked into your helplessness about the situation. This does more damage by creating an alliance with you against her.
In the moment your children are talking with you, there’s nothing wrong with you listening to them and validating their experience. You might say something like, “Sounds like you’ve had a rough day with mom and feel pretty misunderstood. That’s no fun. Sorry it’s been so tough for you.” This isn’t about choosing sides. It’s about recognizing the emotions your kids are bringing to you.
You’re not betraying your children by talking to their mom about the dilemma you’ve been put in. You can let her know the children are coming to you to talk about how tough things are for them during the day. You don’t need to be critical or harsh about it. You can simply let her know that you’re not sure how to respond in a way that would support her relationship with the kids. Ask her what she thinks would be the best way to respond.
If she blows you off and doesn’t want to hear you or the kids, then continue to validate the kids when they talk to you. Keep trying to bring this up in different ways at different times to see if she has any interest in improving her relationship with the kids.
If you keep hitting a dead end trying to get support from her regarding the kid’s emotions, it’s a good idea to seek out some marriage counseling to help work out the challenge of not being heard in the relationship. While there’s nothing wrong with you being the more nurturing parent, recognize there are factions forming inside the family, which ultimately set everyone up for long-term strife.
Want to improve your marriage in a fun and engaging two-day marriage workshop? Geoff will be facilitating a Hold Me Tight marriage workshop in sunny St. George, Utah, February 21-22. Visit www.alliantcounseling.com for more details.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.com
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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