This was first published on ksl.com
What should I do when my spouse gets mad at one of our kids but becomes irrationally angry with yelling, arguing and generally makes a "mountain out of a molehill?" Should I support my spouse and whatever punishment and behavior they use with the kids, even though I don’t agree? Or should I tell my spouse to please walk away, because they are losing it, and let me handle it (which will make them mad at me)? How can we have different parenting styles and not have conflict over them? I also worry that my kids like me more because I am more in control, and it’s made my spouse the bad guy. How are they not the bad guy, when they behave this badly?
So, what you are really asking is: “Is it more important to put up a united front in front of the kids, or is it more important to stop my partner from parenting badly (with out-of-control emotion or anger) directed at our child?”
Obviously, both are important, and doing both at the same time should be your goal. But if you have to choose one (in a tense moment), you should choose to protect your child while never making your spouse feel small or bad. Below are some suggestions for handling these intervention moments with love and support.
Defuse the situation
You must learn how to defuse the situation in a respectful, loving way toward your spouse, who is already upset and triggered. If you step into this situation from a position of anger, holier-than-thou self-righteousness or ego, you are going to create conflict and resentment.
You must learn to speak to your spouse as an equal who is as equally flawed as you are — because both of you are imperfect, struggling, scared, students in the classroom of life, who make mistakes. You cannot cast the first stone. You must speak to your spouse with love and compassion for the fears and pain they are feeling in this moment. You must make them feel safe with you, while also making your child safe.
Create a time-out rule in your home
Defusing the situation with love means having careful, mutually validating conversations (which I have outlined in previous articles) to pick a safe word or agree on a time-out rule. This means both of you will agree, ahead of time, if either of you says that word or calls time-out (which you will do if you feel the situation is being driven by fear not love) you will stop talking and step away from the situation to cool down.
You both must agree to take some time and get your own fear triggers under control (your No. 1 job as a human). You must learn how to choose trust in your infinite value and trust in the universe as your perfect classroom to pull yourself together. Then, talk to each other about this situation and get on the same page before you talk to the child. Make sure both of you feel validated, heard, understood, honored, and respected for your feelings. Never talk down to your spouse or make them feel like the bad guy.
There will be times when you must act quickly, though, and you don’t have time for all this communicating. In those situations, just use the safe word as a clue to your spouse that they sound scared. You will use that safe word to love and support them, not to shame them.
Remember, their out-of-control parenting behavior is happening because they are scared of failure or loss, not because they are a bad person or a bad parent. That is why you need a safe word. You need a word to remind each other that unsafe feelings and behavior are showing up, and the real loving parent is not coming through. You both need to make sure it’s love, not fear, that is doing the parenting.
I highly recommend getting some coaching or counseling if reactive fear responses happen regularly. A good coach can help you figure out what your fear triggers are and teach you how to quiet them so you can parent at your best.
Do's and don'ts in parenting:
1. Don’t respond when you are out of control or angry. Take the time to step away and remind yourself you are not failing or losing your child. This experience is just part of your classroom to help you grow. Raising your voice on occasion is inevitable, but swearing, yelling, acting with hateful anger and violence are not acceptable, ever. If this behavior shows up often, you need to get some professional help to work on this.
2. Don't react in fear. When you react in fear, your response is always something that makes you feel safe. If you parent from love, it is not about you; instead, you are focused on what your child needs. You have to learn to quiet your fears of failure and loss so you can parent unselfishly.
3. Do work to earn your child's respect. Children respect parents who are emotionally intelligent. If you are out of control, overly emotional, inconsistent or immature in your reactions, your child will not respect you. You will feel this and it might make you even angrier, and this can become a vicious cycle. You must fix this by getting some help, apologizing for poor past behavior, and making changes.
4. Don't lecture. Lecturing a child for long periods of time, saying the same things over and over, creates resentment and disrespect more than it changes behavior. If you want influence with your child, you'll get it through connection and safety — not lecturing, yelling or punishing. Respectful conversations where you honor their thoughts and feelings create the connection you seek.
5. Do ask questions. A productive parenting conversation involves more listening (by you) than talking. Asking questions will help you truly understand your child and what drove his or her behavior. But you have to create a safe space for them or they won’t let you in and you will have little influence.
6. Don't try to control the situation. You can have control or connection, but rarely both. Control means your child will do what you say in front of you. Connection means you have influence in how they behave away from you.
7. Don’t ever compare your child with siblings or friends.
8. Don’t relish in being "the good parent" while casting your spouse as "the bad parent" (especially if you are divorced). Be a united front that has good communication so your child can love and respect both of you.
9. Don’t criticize your spouse in front of the kids. If you want to talk about bad behavior that bothers you, do it in private and be prepared to own your bad behavior too. Give your spouse room to ask you for behavioral changes — even ask for the feedback as often as you give some.
10. Do parent as a team. Every problem should be addressed as the two of you against the problem, not each of you against the other. Take time to listen, ask questions, validate, honor and respect your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, fears and concerns before you share yours. Apologize, sincerely, for your past bad behavior and own that you have work to do and things to learn. Make your marriage or partnership a place of personal growth and provide a safe place where you can both own your weaknesses without feeling judged.
11. Don’t be so soft on the kids that you force your spouse to be the bad guy. If you tend toward being too nice or lenient, that is just as bad as being too angry or strict. Own that you may need to do some work on the fear issues that drive your leniency.
I highly recommend the "Parenting with Love and Logic" books and "The Conscious Parent" by Shefali Tsbary. They are my go-to books for parenting ideas and help.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.