Maybe you are familiar with this situation – standing to one side cringing at the level of emotion that your partner is dishing out to your child. Every molecule of you reacting to the fact it has gotten more physical or more shame-evoking than you know is useful and you are worried that dear child you held as a fresh newborn is being emotionally scarred. Maybe your partner is upset about your child not keeping their room clean and so they are reactively throwing prized possessions in the bin while your child pleads and sobs. You want to interject, but you’ve tried that before and know that it just brings loss-of-face to your partner who in their heightened state really believes the child needs to be taught a lesson/new values, and that that way of disciplining is going to teach that. They just can’t hear you when there is that much emotion in the air. They believe they are doing the child a great service and that the child will do better in life with these values they are passionately trying to instil. Unfortunately, with that much emotion the child can’t learn. Our brains don’t absorb when they are in fight or flight mode.
Depending on how safe everyone is, it can be useful to let that hard-to-watch parenting event go through to the keeper and once it is over, help your child to self-regulate (without getting into discussion about how wrong your partner’s actions were) while your partner hopefully exits to de-escalate too. If you check in with yourself and find that you are calm enough to talk usefully with your partner you might find some of these conversation starters useful (tip: they only work if you can get in the mindset of being genuinely curious so maybe take a few extra slow breaths even if you think you are settled enough):
- “That looked hard. Are you ok? What do you need?”
Rremember, you are a dynamic duo – if you have each other’s wellbeing in mind you will sail through the parenting years.
- “Wow – how was that? It looked like quite the calorie burner. Did something else come in on that? It looked bigger than just being about his messy room.”
Empathy, empathy, empathy – no need to focus on your opinion of their method. Get them feeling like you care and they will get to their own reflection that you can be part of once they calm down some more.
- “What do you think they (the child) need our help to learn for next time?”
If asked too early, it will still be a heightened response that the child is in the wrong. Hold this one off until a good way in to your partner opening up, and looking ready to problem-solve.
And then, some questions for when you have more time to talk (out for a walk or to dinner etc) about the icebergs that sit under the fiery parenting reactions we have:
- “I wonder how our own upbringings influence what parenting values we hold?”
Curious, curious, curious. Stating it as though it is true for everyone, and that we don’t need to be perfect, just aware of when we are most connected with our kids (and each other) and what things help or get in the way of that.
- “What were your hardest childhood years? Hey – I was reading an article recently and it said that it is most likely that we will find parenting the hardest as our kids go through those same years. Which ones would you like me to keep an extra eye out for you through?”
- “What scares you about being his/her/their parent? What bits do you love about being his/her/their parent?”
- “Do you feel pressure for our kids to look a certain way for your parents or other friends and family? In what ways?”
- “What do you think are your key parenting values? What are you most driven by? Raising them to be independent, raising them to be super well educated, raising them to be super safe, raising them to be super polite? Which one is the biggie?
Anyway – make more up as you go. The words are secondary to the need for the tone to be curious and caring. From one concerned but non-judgemental parent to another. Way easier said than done but these are skills which we can work hard on now and sail smoother through our co-parenting years or put our head in the sand and ride the rollercoaster every time issues arise.
If you would like to use me as your sounding board as you think through this topic, and get some customised strategies in place, then get in touch. I am here and as passionate as heck about nipping the ‘blah’ parenting situations like this, so our kids can grow up thriving and we can Love Parenting through the many child-raising years.