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AdviceLine: We Disagree on Chinuch

Bassi Gruen

My husband and I have very different parenting styles. I believe in the 80/20 approach; he believes in authority – period. How do we handle this?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

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"M y husband and I have very different parenting styles. I read a lot about parenting, believe in Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s 80/20 approach, and generally follow the adages of “pick your battles” and “don’t sweat the small stuff.” I try to make my interactions with my kids light and fun, and while I do criticize and sometimes threaten, I work hard not to let it take over the relationship.

My husband, on the other hand, has more of an authoritative style — he threatens a lot and demands the children listen to him and exercise self-control in areas beyond their age. For example, he’ll expect the two-year-old not to play with light switches or jump on the bed, while I think those things are perfectly normal two-year-old behavior. He’ll demand the older children help around the house while he himself doesn’t lift a finger. And he’ll expect an eight-year-old to be able to handle his feelings of disappointment with grace and aplomb, which I feel is too high an expectation.

During the week, these differences aren’t so noticeable, but on Shabbos, when lots of time is spent together as a family, these issues are highlighted. While I usually back him up when he issues a command or an ultimatum, I hardly ever agree with his way of dealing with things. Saying things to him on the spot or in front of the kids brings disastrous results, and generally, conversations about chinuch don’t end well.

How do you suggest I handle this? Should I ignore the way he parents even though I disagree with it? Is there a way to broach the subject without the conversation ending in a fight?"

Rebbetzin Lea Feldman is the wife of Rav Aharon Feldman, rosh yeshivah of Ner Israel. She served as the resident shadchan of Neve Yerushalayim for close to 30 years, making more than 100 shidduchim. She continues to counsel many on the topics of shidduchim and marriage. Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting. He works with parents and educators, and conducts parenting groups for men and women.

Mrs. Simi Yellen is a parenting expert who’s been positively transforming homes through her popular “Raise the Bar Parenting” teleconference classes and private consultations for over a decade. She’s passionate about empowering parents to build Torah-true homes, and to raise respectful, responsible, and cooperative children.

Rebbetzin Lea Feldman

I always tell couples that chinuch should be discussed while you’re still dating — choosing a method for raising children needs to be worked out before you even have your first child. At this point, it’s doubtful your husband is going to change. He has his opinions and his approach to parenting. You’re wise in backing your husband, and showing your children a united front. If children feel like they’re living with two opposing approaches, it can have terrible consequences.

You need to back each other — you must stand behind whatever your husband says, and he should back up whatever you tell the children. You may not agree with his approach, and you don’t need to say the same thing yourself, but don’t offer an opposing opinion. Just keep quiet — if necessary, walk away. In front of the kids, never say something like, “What do you expect from such a young child? Of course he’s disappointed.” Later, in private, you can offer your son empathy and let him know you realize that being disappointed is painful, but he can never see you openly contradicting your husband.

It’s okay if the children know you tolerate different things, but there can be no direct contradictions. If your husband tells them they can’t jump on the bed, you can’t say, “It’s okay, you can jump.” However, if you feel it’s fine, you can turn a blind eye and pretend not to see what’s going on when they’re jumping. The kids will quickly learn that they’d better not jump on the bed when your husband is around, but that you’re willing to put up with it.

This is an example of something that doesn’t matter much in the long run. Jumping on a mattress won’t cause long-term harm (aside from the damage to the mattress). The children will grow up, get married, and have their own children, and know they have two choices: to allow jumping on the bed or to forbid it. Neither choice is wrong.

However, when it comes to something that involves a middah or halachah, then it’s crucial that you discuss it. If you can’t see eye to eye, sit down together or with a rav, and figure out what the Torah wants, not what you personally feel is right. For example, if one of you feels that it’s terrible when children call each other names, and the other thinks, this is what children do, just let it go, then you need to speak to a rav. An issue like this impacts personality and character. If a child grows up calling names, it’s going to be extremely difficult to drop the habit and he may end up doing it as an adult, as well. Anything that can have long-term ramifications needs to be discussed with a rav, and you both need to follow whichever approach is halachically and hashkafically correct.

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