Are you the 'soft' parent?

Kinderling News & Features

My husband and I make a good parenting team. I think this because our children are happy, healthy and thriving since we first became “Mum” and “Dad” about six years ago. There is, however, one fundamental area where we clash.

He thinks that I am the “soft” parent, the lenient one, the one that lets the children get away with murder.

I think he is too aggressive, too quick to anger, too “shouty”.

Labels are easy but life isn’t black and white

My husband is not angry all the time; he's a fun dad who genuinely enjoys hanging out with his children playing. He believes they deserve respect and for him that means treating them like adults. In his eyes they’re intelligent enough to understand his conversations, and what is right and wrong.

I also believe our children deserve respect, but my definition of respect is quite different. I believe they deserve to be respected as children. That while they are smart, their brains are not fully developed. That while they do understand concepts of right and wrong, they often have to be taught, and shown, and taught again until they really understand.

Some people cope with anger better than others

For my husband, anger is just another expression of genuine emotion. He grew up in a family that expressed themselves well (and often) and it's led him to accept anger as a normal part of life. Which of course it is. We all feel anger, and I don’t believe that it should always be repressed.

When I feel anger I fight it, and feel bad. In this sense I think my husband has a healthier way of accepting anger as a natural emotion. After he yells, he can move on. It’s water off a duck’s back. After I hear someone yelling, am yelled at or yell myself, I’m unsettled for hours.

Anger and anxiety are two sides of the same coin

According to psychologist Renee Mill, anger fires off in the same part of the brain as anxiety. Anger is a response to feeling danger in our primitive brain; that danger could be provoked because you’re not getting what you want (they’re not listening to you, they’re challenging you, etc).

“It sets off this whole reaction in your body but it also means that the higher parts of your brain, your executive functions, actually don’t work and you stop being logical and rational.”

Is your child making you angry, or is it something else?

Renee says there are three main reasons parents get angry.

1. That we believe our child is deliberately pressing our buttons. This is taking normal behavioural things a child might do (eg writing on the wall when they’re two) and thinking it’s only your child that does it.

2. Generalizing that the whole child is defined by one action. For example, assuming when they won’t share a toy that they are selfish, instead of understanding that they are generally a kind and loving child who isn’t great at sharing.

3. Believing that our experience is worse than any other family.

People compare all the time. They are so sure that Mary down the road, and Harry over there has such an easy time with their gorgeous kids, and it's only mine that won't go to sleep and it's only mine who doesn't do the homework.

“These are the kind of thoughts that are actually causing our anger rather than the behaviours. And then instead of focusing on the behaviours we are focusing on what we think our child is doing to us,” Renee said.

What kind of parent do you want to be?

Soft parents are often wrongly portrayed as being reluctant to say “no".  I don’t have a problem saying no, I don’t have a problem with consequences and I don’t want to be my kids' best friend. 

What I want is for them to feel loved and understood; to feel that they can always come to me, even when they’ve done something wrong. I want to be their home.

“Soft” and “hard” parents can  work together well

In his book 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know Dr Justin Coulson talks about acceptance, and how it can work better than trying to change your partner: “The more accepting we are of our partner the more likely it is that they'll make changes whereas the more we try to change them and fix them the more they'll resist”.

Noted: Stop telling husband to chill out.

Justin also talks about appreciating the good aspects of our partner’s parenting style; when you focus on the good, the things you don’t agree with aren't as bad.

There is a lot to love about the way my husband parents.

We may not always see eye to eye, but together we can still be a good team, and I think our kids would attest to that.