Parenting our Kids When we are Polar Opposites

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The term “opposites attract” does not do justice to my relationship with my husband. I’m an Aries. He’s a Virgo. Growing up, his family hid their dysfunction, while mine tended to announce our issues the moment we entered a room. We are two vastly different people raising two pretty awesome kids. It’s no surprise, then, that the way we respectively approach the multitude of issues presented during the parenting process differs greatly.

parentingI am an extrovert to the extreme who needs to connect with friends and family on a frequent basis. I have a lot of friends from various stages in my life, from my kindergarten days in parochial school through high school, college, and beyond. I not only pride myself in maintaining these friendships, but I am also able to talk to new acquaintances with ease, sometimes making a new friend, sometimes not. Social anxiety? What’s that?

My husband, on the other hand, is very much an introvert. Contrary to his innate nature, his job in sales requires him to be “on” during his long work hours, so when he finally drags his exhausted self through the front door, his introverted disposition takes over with a vengeance. He’s a loner, content with long periods of silence, and his favorite people to hang out with are our two children. When our schedules and the planets align, a rare occurrence, we try to find something mutually beneficial to do that piques both our interests, divergent as they are. We have a small group of mutual friends, and while he enjoys their company, after a few gatherings he is ready to stay home and watch movies with our children, leaving me to go out and party alone.

parentingThis week provided a perfect example of our opposite styles of parenting. Our son, Nathan, has been sick with a nasty cough that seems to be traveling around the schools in our area, infecting multitudes of children. He is finally on the mend *knocks wood* but for a few days his cough was punctuated by brief periods of blessed silence before the spasm in his chest started up again. My husband told him to lie down and watch TV, no video games or other distractions on his omnipresent laptop allowed. Like his father, Nathan would rather spend time in front of the computer than watching TV, so I found this decision a) hypocritical and b) reminiscent of when my own father used to lecture me on the evils of watching TV when I was convalescing on the couch. So I committed one of the cardinal sins of co-parenting: I vetoed my husband’s edict and told him, and my son, that Nathan could relax with his laptop while did his best barking seal impersonation. My husband was not happy. Why would he be? I trampled his feelings on a matter that was obviously important to him, simply because it wasn’t important to me.

This is just one incident in nearly 16 years of parenting battles, some big, some small. It wasn’t insignificant, however, as it showed very clearly that we have a long way to go in presenting a united front to our children.

parentingEven the way we interact with our children is very often polar opposite. I blow up, get over it in about five seconds flat, and move on. The kids know this and are more likely to ask me for something than they are their dad. He is slow to burn but incredibly stubborn when pushed too far. He will not relent. Just ask our kids. Last night, my husband went to bed early after a crazy day at work, and I was still downstairs watching TV. He sent me a video call request on Facebook from another area in the same house. Via webcam the topic of parenting came up yet again, but in a thoughtful, reflective manner rather than a combative one. He said I was permissive. I said he was picky. We nodded in agreement at each other’s assessments. Now that we know we can discuss our differences without involving hurt feelings and angry words, how can we bridge the gap between our parenting styles to approach our children as a duo rather an individuals who are at odds?

parentingWhile I admit I do not know the concrete answer to that question, I do know that that we have a lot of work to do as we continue to evolve as parents. We have to pay more attention to discussing parenting conflicts in private rather than in front of the kids, something of which I am very guilty. We also have to pick our battles. Perhaps I need to take a stand on more issues, while it would serve my husband well to stand down a bit and realize that not everything is a big deal. I recently read something about using a code word when one spouse or partner was getting out of control, a diversion of sorts that would break up an argument or redirect attention from the issue, even only for a little while. I love this idea and have been brainstorming words for us to use to tell each other that some private discussion time is needed before we continue with the parenting issue at hand. Kumquat? Psoriasis? Oprah? Skywalker? No matter the word we choose, this is a fabulous reminder to take a step back so that we can eventually resolve the problem and move forward as a family.

I think our differing personalities have made our relationship interesting over the years. We have learned how to accommodate someone who does not always share the same point of view on a variety of situations. However, despite this variety, my husband and I are slowly recognizing the need to overcome our disparities as parents. Not only will doing so help us avoid the occasional “turf war” over topics like discipline, communication, and respect, but it will also allow us to model positive behavior for our kids. And when it comes down to it, they’re the top two reasons why we try to better ourselves in the first place.

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Jen Propp
Jen ProppJen Propp is a writer and educator living in a small town near Chicago. When she is not writing, teaching, or working as a faculty developer for a local college Jen likes to spend time with her eclectic and eccentric group of family and friends because let’s face it-they provide entertainment and inspiration for her stories.
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