When Your Partner Doesn’t Agree

This post has an audio and video recorded version for those who prefer to learn by hearing rather than by reading. Scroll to the bottom for the video of me reading it.

A mom was asking me recently for any advice on convincing her husband to allow their children to feel their emotions without feeling like he had to make them stop crying or expressing themselves.

This is a really complicated topic, and the simplest and shortest answer is that adults really can’t force other adults to do things that they don’t want to do…including change when they don’t want to change. All you can do is control your own actions, and know when a line has been crossed past which point your children are literally unsafe and you truly need to do something in order to protect them.

Assuming that this situation isn’t actually crossing that line, this was my answer…

Often parents really struggle with children expressing emotions that they, themselves (the parents) would’ve been unsafe for expressing as children. I wouldn’t be shocked if crying wasn’t very welcome when he was little. It’s really hard to move past that. 

It’s hard to convince anybody to change if they don’t want to change (obviously), but it might help to try to figure out, by asking him or talking about it, what it is about the crying that bothers him so much? (Not at a time when somebody is already crying!) It’s probably lots of things, but you might be able to target one factor at a time.

If he is sensitive to the sound specifically (I am 🙋) then earplugs or headphones might help him get down from the “fight or flight” edge and back into his rational brain.

If he is sensitive to feeling like someone is watching over his shoulder or will judge his parenting (whether that’s true or not), it might help to identify that thought out loud and what factors might be building into it. As a broad example: someone might be more likely to be afraid their child’s crying will result in them being judged if they live near judgy family members who they see all the time; or are a minority race in a town where they feel they have to be “on their best behavior”; or were raised with intense judgment and have internalized it…and identifying what inner work would need to be done, is the first step there. Because each of those scenarios would need something very different to begin to learn to change.

If he feels like crying is a sign that he’s doing a bad job, is a bad parent, needs to make it stop, etc…then it might be very freeing for him to learn that children crying doesn’t reflect on him or his worth. heart But it’s a long process, too, not just flicking a switch.

If he feels like the crying is just not appropriate, they’re too old, etc, then reading about child development for your child’s age might at least help him not feel so alone, and understand better what children this age usually do (including cry).

…And so on…there could be many many more factors I didn’t name. And I know that it’s nearly impossible to just foist this inner work onto another person, no matter how much you wish you could. Maybe if you can non-judgmentally have a conversation about it where you tell him you really and truly want to hear his side, and you literally just listen reflectively without correcting or interjecting anything (even if he’s the wrongest wrong who ever wronged!)…it might be the tiniest step toward being able to come to a better place together, where he can more readily handle children being children.