Staying Home Instead
Agreeing to Disagree
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 3, May-June 2001, p. 97-99
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
My husband and I truly love each other, and are both thrilled to be parents. But sometimes it seems that's all we agree on. Our attitudes about parenting are so different that I sometimes despair on how we can possibly reconcile them. I want our baby to sleep with us; he wants her to sleep in the other room. I use cloth diapers; when he changes the baby, he puts her in disposable diapers. I'm pretty content taking the baby with me wherever I go, at least while she's this young; my husband is already pushing for a romantic weekend away, without the baby. I'm frustrated both with the arguing we do and with times when I feet he undermines my preferences with his actions. How do other couples work out their parenting differences without harming their marriage?
It is very frustrating when you and your husband don't agree on issues that are important to both of you. My husband and I fought a lot over child rearing issues in the beginning, too. What I recommend for both of you is to take some time to communicate your reasons for each of your preferences. That will help you each to begin to make compromises. The weekend getaway without your baby is a big issue. My suggestion would be to explain to your husband that you would not be able to enjoy the getaway without your baby. First, you would need to pump as often as she nurses, perhaps even more often since thinking about your baby might lead to a let-down of milk. You might try explaining that going away overnight might lead to a nursing strike, which is not a pleasant experience. Maybe you could find the time after your baby goes to sleep for some romantic conversation or time spent together.
The key to most marital/parenting differences is communication. Your husband may not really want a complete weekend away with you for romance. What he might really want is a few hours with you that are devoted to him. His weekend away suggestion may be his way of saying, 'I need some attention." You need to find out what he really wants. Is it really that your husband uses disposable diapers and you prefer cloth diapers, or is this really about your husband doing things differently from you? You may see that difference as a critique of your mothering while your husband may see it as disposable diapers being easier to put on the baby. You may see the baby in your bed as easy mothering while your husband sees it as an intruder into his space.
It helps to express your feelings and wants clearly. One way to do this is with an "I" statement: express a specific action that bothers you, your feelings about that action, and then ask for a specific change. Look at the examples you gave and see if you can make an "I" statement about them. For example, you might say, "When you consistently put disposable diapers on our baby, I feel as if you are indirectly criticizing my preference for cloth diapers."
In order for this to work, you also need to really listen to your husband as he talks about his feelings and his wants. Try not to react to them with anger and frustration; rather, listen to them. Try to repeat what you think your husband said to you. He will tell you if he feels you did not hear him. Remember that he is not your adversary. You are both adjusting to new roles. Working on your communication skills will help you both adjust.
Boy does this sound familiar! Most of my friends have also gone through similar points in their marriages. What has helped me through these stages (and believe me, the conflicts in parenting styles are not only when they are babies) are La Leche League friends, both at meetings and one-on-one. Hearing that others had gone through similar problems helped me to put things in perspective. The main thing I learned from them was to look for ways to compromise.
On the sleep issue, understanding what my husband's bottom line was allowed us to craft a compromise. The most important thing for him was for us to be together when we went to bed. When our children woke during the night, I would go into their room and often spend the rest of the night sleeping there. If you choose your battles wisely, and only insist on the most crucial issues, your husband may be much more willing to recognize the importance of compromise.
If separation from the baby for a romantic weekend is the one issue you just can't give in on for now, make it clear to your husband that you are willing to compromise on or overlook other issues, but at this time you can't leave the baby for a weekend. I found it helpful at this point to offer alternatives, such as a romantic evening at home (including candles, music, special meal, fire in the fireplace, or sexy outfit). There are many books full of ideas for putting romance back in a marriage, which may be what your husband is missing more than actually going away. Again, communication on exactly what the issues are for each of you is important. Social contact as a couple with like-minded families helps, too! He may feel that your beliefs about child raising are unusual until he sees other families with similar beliefs.
Being a couple is hard work; becoming a family is even harder. It is not uncommon for mothers and fathers to totally differ on child care issues. Trying to remember that men and women approach issues from a different perspective sometimes helps. I would suggest reading some terrific books for both of you: BECOMING A FATHER, by Dr. William Sears (Available from the LLLI Online Store) and Mothering and Fathering: the Gender Differences in Child Rearing, by Tine Thevenin. Both authors respect the mother and infant relationship while explaining that as the father supports and protects mother and child he is truly caring for his baby.
I would also offer that perhaps some things you could let him do his way. Bathing, diapering, and holding are all ways he can nurture and bond and there is no "right" way to do it. If he feels more comfortable with disposables let him use disposables. Having his own rituals and routines with your baby will help him form his own bond. His routines will not be the same as yours and they don't need to be.
Pam M. D.
Many parents do not see eye-to-eye on every issue related to parenting and child care. You can still have a solid relationship without agreeing on everything. A suggestion that has stuck with me through 16 years of marriage and four children is, "Pick your battles." If your husband is willing to change diapers, that is wonderful. A disposable diaper may be something that he is comfortable using and it won't hurt your baby (unless your baby is allergic to the diaper). Graciously accept this and ignore the fact that you would prefer a cloth diaper. They both do the job, and you get an involved husband. This might be a battle that you could choose not to enter.
Sleeping arrangements might require extra thought. Many parents grow into co-sleeping. Some parents take it gracefully, saying to themselves, "This is where my baby belongs." However, some parents fight co-sleeping kicking and screaming, and finally accept it because they are falling apart and there is no other way. It took my collapse into depression and exhaustion before my husband would accept the baby in our bed. The next three babies have slept there without question, and now, 12 years into parenting, he's thankful the baby is sleeping with us because he gets and gives extra loving. This is a battle you can compromise on. Perhaps the baby can start out in her bed and join you later. Maybe dad can take the nighttime duties for a while, and discover how pleasant a sleeping baby in his bed is, compared to walking the halls at 2 am.
Disagreeing with someone you love and cherish, like your husband, can be very disquieting. Both of you are individuals with set thoughts in your minds. Learning communication skills is a little like brushing long hair. Sometimes the brush runs straight through the hair, leaving a shiny, glossy length of hair. Sometimes you hit a tangle. Working out these tangles can take time, and there may be a bit of pain as you get to where you want to be. But, like long tangled hair, when you work on the easy snags a little at a time, the other tangles work out easier. Picking your battle means standing up for what's really important to you, and letting slide what really is not that important.
First of all, we've always kept in mind our priority that we want our marriage to last—no matter what. Then we learned to choose our battles. If I can compromise with my husband on some things, I also have the freedom to negotiate with him on others. For example, I have quit using cloth diapers since he really objects to them, but our babies sleep in bed with us.
The next thing we have done is to spend a lot of time and effort over the years reasoning together. I prepare by putting into words exactly why I want the things I want. When we each gather our thoughts first, it helps us think more clearly and decide whether to either go one way or find a compromise somewhere in the middle. I convinced him not to have the television on during meals, and he convinced me to keep our weekly family nights for just us instead of inviting another family over to share. We compromised on romantic weekends away, taking any baby at the time with us and working together to make it as romantic as possible when we are between nurslings.
After over 12 years of marriage (over 11 as parents) and four children, I can now say that we've both changed our minds about different issues at various times. For instance, we could not have imagined when we were having a terrible time teaching our second child to go to sleep on her own that now, eight years later, we would actually want our fourth child to keep nursing all night. The things your husband wants now but that you think sound awful may turn out to be your preference a few years down the road (or vice versa). Keep an open mind and a positive attitude and enjoy life with your beloved husband and baby!