When Parenting Turns Your Spouse Into Stranger
By Tina Trikha
You think you know your spouse well.
After all, you’ve spent years together discussing everything. You know each other’s opinions on political and social matters. You understand each other’s preferences, and you have a pulse on what inspires and motivates your other half. You feel fairly secure in your understanding of each other.
But then children come along, and suddenly, several assumptions about your spouse, which you had accepted as hard facts, are no longer valid. And you wonder how well you truly know the person who wakes up next to you every morning.
The person who you thought wasn’t religious is now keen to ensure that the next generation is brought up with a good understanding of religious values and beliefs. The carefree spouse who loved skydiving and other adventure sports is now obsessively padding every edge of every piece of furniture in the home to protect your child from the tiniest scratch. The person who spoke for hours at length on how test-based learning was the biggest bane to the education system is now scouring through school websites and pamphlets to compare test scores in order to determine where to seek admission for your child.
Becoming a parent changes everything, including how well you understand your spouse, and perhaps even yourself. Not only that, very often, you discover that as a couple you have very different opinions on how you want to bring up your child.
These can range from how much television or other screen time is fine for your child, to your philosophy towards family mealtimes, to how seriously you want to practice your religious beliefs, to your approach toward education. Discussions, which used to be in the abstract before the children came along, can now be quite intense – even heated – when parents have different realizations and view points.
After a series of intense conversations on a variety of topics, I know my husband and I are now quite pleasantly surprised when we discover common ground on certain parenting decisions, no matter how small. For instance, we may have differing opinions on how strongly we want to encourage (or insist upon) a balanced and nutritious diet for our children, but we both agree that our daughter looks better in purple than in pink.
Parenting is all about celebrating those small victories. It makes the other battles easier, or at least more manageable.
Managing to find a compromise, which both parties can happily live with, is a big part of the parenting challenge. Do you compromise by finding a middle ground on most matters, which leaves neither parent happy? Does the parent with the stronger or more articulate opinion on most matters get her way, which can lead to other festering issues? Or do you take turns giving in on different matters, depending on how strongly you or your spouse believes in them?
None of these solutions is easy and none of them is perfect. But then again, no one said parenting would be easy.
Coming to a decision on how you want to parent together with your spouse is the first step. The next is actually executing those decisions.
For instance, a few days ago, my husband suggested that “we” should organize our son’s birthday party in an elaborate and fairly detail-oriented manner around a particular theme. With one eyebrow raised, I asked my husband, “When you say ‘we,’ whom exactly are you referring to?” Past personal experience has suggested that fathers in my family can be quite the visionaries where matters of the children are concerned, while the nitty-gritty of the execution is often left to the mothers.
A few months ago, “we” came to a joint decision on activities for the children after much debate and discussion on what we believed would be the right choices for them. A few weeks later, I found myself rushing between soccer practice, music classes, and other after-school activities as only one-half of the “we” that had agreed to the vision. I had a suspicion that the elaborate birthday party could be quite similar in terms of resource allocation.
And the battle lines for another set of intense and heated conversations are drawn.