Why Supporting Your Partner First Is Parenting 101
Life changes when you have a baby. It mostly changes because another human relies on you 24 hours a day, making you more sleep deprived than you’ve ever been. Then, a couple of months later, your baby smiles and all the sleepless nights start paying off. Your baby eventually gets more predictable, and parenting seems smoother.
Just as you start to relax and feel like yourself again — for me, around the one-year mark — your baby stops being a baby and enters the toddler stage. Then, all bets are off. Around age two, you start questioning who your child is in public. The unpredictability returns. Will he throw himself on the ground because I won’t let him climb into the fountain at the mall? Will she scream at the top of her lungs because I cut her grapes in half?
If you have a toddler, you’ve likely experienced something like this: Child throws a tantrum, dad threatens him with a timeout, child screams louder, mom yells at dad for making it worse. (Or switch those roles.) In my case, these situations have typically ended with my husband and me getting into an argument about who knows best, while our son is still screaming. It is during this time that I’ve learned one of the most valuable parenting lessons: Supporting your partner should always come first. Here’s why.
Parenting is Hard Enough — Don’t Make it Harder
Without even including toddler attitudes in the mix, parenting is still a very stiff cocktail. There’s potty training, boo-boo kissing, nose wiping, nap times, trying to make sure they have a well-balanced diet, entertaining them and teaching them everything you know. There’s no way around it, being a parent is hard. And I cannot imagine doing this without a partner. So, why make it harder by creating a divide between yourself and the one person you decided to do this with in the first place?
Our kids are the root of a lot of stress, so it makes sense why they tend to be a hot-button topic. But with time (our oldest son is four), we’ve learned to communicate our thoughts much better with one another so that we can hear each other out. We’ve learned that the rewards of parenting far outweigh the work put in, but also that we don’t want to do that work alone. Being a team even when it’s hard has made for much happier days.
You Can’t Be a Good Parent If You Aren’t Happy
Take my word for it when I tell you that winning an argument with your spouse about your tantrum approach being better than his will not make you happy. What will, though, is either of you stopping the tantrum in any way possible. After that, the two of you can come up with strategies on how to deal with the next one. It’s great if you’re on the same page, but if not, try to find a middle ground.
My husband is a million times more patient than I am as a general rule. But when I feel heard, even if we have a difference of opinion, I find that I am more patient and understanding to his approach.
Toddlers Are Sponges
When my oldest son turned two, he struggled with communication. He didn’t speak well, and often couldn’t find the words to express himself. Screaming became his only form of communicating anger. Well, that and throwing himself on the ground. He quickly learned that those actions made me uncomfortable in public places. So, naturally, when he was mad at me, he did what I hated and threw himself on the ground screaming. At the doctor’s office, the grocery store, the park, visiting Santa…you name it, he’s thrown himself on the ground there.
My son soaks up adult reactions and then molds himself until he gets the response he wants. He now rolls his eyes when he’s annoyed, balls up his little hands into fists and thrusts them in the air when he’s making a point and slams his bedroom door when he’s sentenced to a timeout. He learned all of those things from watching his parents. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but when your three-year-old says, “Mom, I’m not talking to you right now…I just need a minute,” it’s pretty clear that they are mimicking you. And it’s even clearer that you should make sure you are proud of what’s mimicked back to you.
You Are Shaping Future Adults
Parenting is the biggest and hardest job because we are responsible for shaping our child’s future. The simplest way to look at it is this: What are your flaws, and do you want your child to have them?
I know what obstacles I’ve come across in my life, and I also know that I would have been better equipped to deal with them if I was less naïve and better at communicating what I wanted. So, I will try to instill that into my sons. By the same token, if I want them to be kind and respectful of people’s opinions, I need them to see me respecting my husband’s opinion, and him respecting mine.
Respect Is an Ongoing Lesson
You will disagree with your partner, but you can do it respectfully. I’m not proud of the things I’ve said to my husband when I was actually irritated at how my children were acting. And I know he feels the same. But just as we may argue in front of our kids, we also settle our differences in front of them. If they hear us arguing about whether or not one of us over- or under-punished, we also bring the kids in the room when we’re calmer and able to talk it out.
Our sons may hear us fight, but they also hear us apologize. What we hope that accomplishes is teaching them that even if someone has a different opinion, you can still respect that opinion.
Toddlers Are Manipulative
It was challenging for me to think that my sweet baby boy was manipulating me. Oftentimes, when he didn’t get what he wanted, he would throw a tantrum that would end in me apologizing to him.
One day, when he was two, I walked into the bathroom to find him in front of a full-length mirror practicing his crying face. It was the slap in the face I needed. Actual proof that he was faking it. From that day on, my mindset changed. I no longer felt bad about punishing his outlandish behavior because I was certain that it was all an act.
Toddlers Can Sense Weakness
Of course, I knew deep down that my son’s cries weren’t real because he rarely threw tantrums when he was out with his dad — and if he did, they were much shorter. He learned who was weakest and pounced.
Both of my sons act differently at preschool than they do at home, simply because they know that they can get away with more at home. Or at least they are willing to try. They’ve lived with us every day of their lives, so they know when we’re weak (read: tired after a late night out with friends) we’ll say yes to almost anything. It’s the same reasoning they use to divide us when we don’t support one another. Our youngest will now give a hug and say “I love you” to whichever parent is giving him what he wants at the time.
Terrible Twos and Threenagers
You’ve likely heard the phrase “terrible twos,” which is pretty self-explanatory. Well, now, the world of parenting has another term: “threenager.” So, if you thought your biggest problems would be in the teenage years, think again. Toddlers are just like teenagers, but with even less sense of self.
Here’s a fun story for you. I’m at Target with both of my sons alone. My oldest, who was three at the time, needed new pants. He was completely disinterested in making that easy for me, but he did see a shirt with his favorite character on it that he wanted. As any good mom would do, I decided that I would bribe him with buying that shirt if he would try on pants. It didn’t work. In fact, it actually pissed him off even more. He ran away from me, screaming at the top of his lungs while I chased him around the store with his one-year-old brother in tow.
After what seemed like an hour (probably closer to 10 minutes) of trying to talk sense into this maniac of a child, I was sweating and teary eyed, and we left the store without anything. I got home and told my husband everything. He hugged me and said, “Sorry that happened, but you’re a good mom.”
That support meant the world to me in that moment. All of this is to say that you may not actually survive the threenage years if you aren’t supporting one another. Consider yourself warned.
No One Likes to Feel Alone
Being with kids without another adult can be lonely. Kids simply don’t understand things like other adults do. Yes, you can hold conversations with children, but with my sons, these conversations are usually about their favorite color, a friend they met at the park or what theme they want for their next birthday party.
For me, having another adult around that “gets it” makes parenting so much more fun. When our sons are playing nicely one minute and then throwing toys at each other the next, it’s nice to look to someone else and share that moment. Those are the things I try to remember when I’m annoyed that my husband threatened the boys with no TV without letting me know.
Reasoning With Toddlers Is Futile
If nothing else, you should support your partner because reasoning with an upset toddler is pointless. From experience, I can say that logic is not the secret to calming a child in the middle of a tantrum.
Last year, we took our kids to a pumpkin patch. They had so much fun picking pumpkins, riding rides, getting their faces painted, jumping in bounce houses…but then we had to leave. This was not in line with our three-year-old’s plan for the day. We both tried to calm him down by talking to him. When it didn’t work, we brought out the big guns. “If you don’t stop acting like this, we won’t buy you a pumpkin, you don’t get to read books before bed tonight, you’re going in timeout when we get home,” and so on. There was nothing we could say that would stop him, so we eventually just picked him up, and while he was kicking and screaming, we walked to the car.
My husband and I argued the whole car ride home about how we had both made missteps in handling the situation. By the time we got home, the kids were asleep, and we were angry at each other. It took a few hours until we realized that we had sort of thrown our own tantrums because our toddler did. But we’re supposed to be the rational adults, right? We had blew the ending of an otherwise really fun day together because we weren’t supporting one another. When I forget that I shouldn’t be siding with a two- or four-year-old, these experiences have a way of pulling me back to reality.
Your Partner Has His or Her Reasons
One of the things we did wrong that day was that we didn’t listen to one another. I thought my husband was being too hard on our son because he was yelling at him. My husband thought I was being too easy on him because I was trying to hug him and remind him of all the fun stuff we had just finished doing. We had taken vastly different approaches to calming him down and never explained our reasoning for doing so.
It wasn’t until hours later that we learned why we each acted the way that we did. My husband thought that being stern would show our son that we were serious and that acting like that to get what he wanted was not going to be tolerated. I thought that showing him we loved him would make him realize he was acting out and that it would calm him down.
What we both learned was that we weren’t acting on impulse; in fact, we had both put quite a bit of thought into our responses to our son’s tantrum. When we realized that, it was easier to support the other because we both wanted the same thing: a well-rounded child that doesn’t scream at us when he doesn’t get what he wants.
You Can Still Disagree
Don’t get me wrong, no parent should ever give into their partner just so their kids don’t see them disagree. There’s no doubt that you and your spouse will not be on the same page when it comes to some aspect of parenting. But when that happens, try to listen to their reasons and talk it out. If you can’t agree, find a compromise that makes everyone happy.
More than anything, remember that your child is watching, and whatever they see will be the way they handle a future similar situation. And know that if your child senses that they can get away with something because you and your partner don’t have each other’s back, they will try.
Childhood Lessons Last Forever
They say that lasting memories begin around age four, but don’t think that means that your child’s brain isn’t evolving based on memories younger than that. Babies learn how to respond to the world the minute they are born. Some of it is innate, and some of it is learned.
I still very much remember the way the people in my house treated one another when I was a child. The relationships I had with my parents, my brothers and my extended family formed how I treat everyone else I’ve encountered in my life. How your parents treated each other affects your relationships today, and that’s true for your kids, too.
You Chose Each Other First
This is the most important thing to remember as a parent with toddlers: You and your partner chose to do this together. My husband and I were married for two years before we decided to start our family. And while creating that family together was the best decision we ever made, we also need to be reminded that, before these little people entered our home, we chose each other.
Remember that when your kids are grown, they will leave your house and it will be just the two of you again. And if you spent 18 (or more) years not in support of one another, you won’t have anything left that matters.