How to co-parent with different values

mrsstar922 asks: My husband and I just recently married, but have known each other for over 25 years. I came into the relationship with a 5-year-old daughter. He is the middle of three boys and I have one younger brother. My mother was very strict as I was growing up. I am not as harsh with my daughter as my mother was with me but I rarely have discipline issues with my now 7-year-old daughter. My husband is EXCESSIVELY critical and barks at her for things as simple as screaming when something scares her or talking during a TV program. I have learned patience with her over the years and I know her better than he does. Obviously. He has no children of his own but wants one. We have two totally different parenting styles. I cannot get him to compromise, or even to listen to me for advice on how to handle her when she misbehaves (But don’t get me wrong; he is not abusive in the least, and would never lay a hand on her). I need to know how I can get him to listen to me and maybe compromise on punishment. Or even know when punishment is necessary. I will get my tubes tied or get a divorce shortly if we can’t come to a happy medium.

Hi mrsstar922 –

This is a huge issue. I’ve dealt with it a lot in my own life. My human, Handsome, and I have as perfect a relationship as you and your daughter – when we’re alone. We understand each other, and respect each other (but not too much!), and mainly just love each other like crazy.

But when Handsome has friends over, they often are bothered by how free I am. After all, some people don’t allow dogs in their kitchens, or onto their beds, or even in their homes. And when he has girlfriends, it gets even more dicey! After all, he really wants to make them happy! So I find myself spending the night outdoors, or not getting as many treats as usual. And I still have nightmares about the work he did to make sure I never jumped on one particular frightened girlfriend again (it involved her carrying a squirt bottle, and I shudder to think of it).

And actually, this goes the other way too. When I have a pooch friend over for a playdate, sometimes I’m bothered by the way they behave (especially if they’re too nice to Handsome – or he’s too nice to them! GRRRRRR!).

You use the exact correct word – what’s needed is


Compromise is hard. It’s hard for Handsome and me to accept a shift in the rules we’ve lived in all my life, and it’s hard for Handsome’s friends or girlfriends to accept the way we are. But it’s necessary.

So necessary that, when it hasn’t worked, those girlfriends have had to break up with him, and those friends just don’t get invited over anymore.

So I agree fully that it’s necessary for you and your husband to find compromises – not just in how to handle your daughter, but in every aspect of your marriage. Simply put, marriage IS compromise!

But compromise has to be real. Years ago, a famous television series had a very funny moment where the wife, Edith, is asked by her daughter how she and her husband end arguments. And Edith explains, “Well, one of us always says they’re sorry, and the other always says ‘That’s all right Edith, I forgive you.'” That is not the kind of compromise I’m wishing for you!

The best way I know of, to arrive at these compromises, is to bring a third voice into your discussions. Maybe you two could take a class in parenting (there are fine ones out there – one famous course is called Parent Effectiveness Training, and maybe it’s being taught somewhere near you). What’s great about this is that you’ll be opening yourself up to ideas that might disagree with how you’ve been with your daughter, and this will give your husband a chance to “be right” sometimes. But most of the time, I’m guessing that the classes will be telling him his yelling and criticism don’t work. Which is just what he needs to hear.

Another “third party” would be a couples’ therapist or a family therapist. This would likely cost a bit more than a class, but would have the advantage of the person knowing you two far better than a teacher would, and being able to deal with specific issues each of you has. (One thought – if you want to go this way, it might be a good idea to look for a male therapist, so that your husband won’t feel ‘ganged up on’ by two women in the room!).

But in the end, as much as I hate to say it, I agree with your threat. Just as Handsome had to let some women he really loved go because they weren’t tolerant of me, you have to acknowledge that your first and greatest bond is with your daughter. And if it’s impossible for the three of you to live under one roof, it’s quite clear which one’s going to be asked to leave.

Although I hate that! It’s so simple to work out house rules, and to determine how best to discipline. As long as you two agree on the rules and discipline (and, as you say, no one’s being abusive), you’re fundamentally doing it right.

Some dogs aren’t allowed to sleep on the bed. Some are. As long as the humans agree, we dogs are very willing to follow the rules. Your daughter will be the same way (though once she hits her teens, it won’t look that way!). But the “parental unit” has to be unified, has to agree with itself. If that unit is you and your husband, that’s wonderful, and will give her a beautiful model of how adults can negotiate and work together.

But if not, if it’s just you, that might have to be okay too. At least she’ll grow up knowing she’s important and that you care a lot about her life.

And I’ll throw one other point in, mrsstar922. One reason Handsome was able to let some of those women go was because he knew that, if they were intolerant of his relationship with me today, they’d be intolerant of something else about him tomorrow. Maybe about his family, or a child they’d have together. Or about him in general.

If your husband refuses to listen to you, or even negotiate with you, about disciplining your daughter, what’s he advertising about how he wants to treat you the rest of your life? Do you really want to spend the rest of your days not being listened to?

So I’m agreeing with you all the way. Sit down with him and explain that this situation is far worse for you than he realizes, and that you love him and want to spend the rest of your life with him, but simply can’t continue with this situation. Offer him some possibilities (parenting class, family therapy, etc.), and see what he says.

And if he says no, that he’d rather you leave than for him to do one of those things… as awful as it is, you might just have to take him at his word.


Best of Luck – you sound like the kind of mom every kid deserves!


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Leave a Reply 2 comments

Kota - April 19, 2016 Reply

Thank you for this! It was very helpful for you to point out that if her husband isn’t tolerant with her daughter today, he most likely will not be tolerant with his wife in the future. That goes for compromising as well. I have seen this situation, and even dealt with it myself, many times.
I would also encourage this mother to stay true to her daughter no matter what. Mom may want to take that parenting class alone anyway, just so that she may be sure she’s not expecting too much, or the wrong thing, from a partner. To be sure her parenting is well balanced and not giving too much leeway to her daughter, so that she doesn’t have this issue in future relationships. But also, Mom needs to know that her daughter fully relies upon her to be there and to be consistent for her daughter. Too many single parents compromise too much with their partner in order to keep them, and end up isolating or compromising their relationships with their children. Kudos to this mom for seeking advice about a very real problem, and for loving her daughter enough to do the difficult thing, which is standing up to the other adult. I pray that God will give her wisdom and peace in this situation.

    shirelle - April 21, 2016 Reply

    Wow, those are great thoughts! Thanks!!

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