Yes, there is a way to respectfully disagree with your partner's parenting

"Do I simply let it dissolve and be forgotten? Or do I confront my wife about it?"
"Do I simply let it dissolve and be forgotten? Or do I confront my wife about it?"

We recently came across this question on reddit:

Need advice: wife said 6yo son has a “man cold”, he overheard and asked what that was... from r/Parenting

"I came home from work and saw my son on the couch and he looked rough. Turned out he had 100+ degree fever, was coughing and was visibly drained of energy. I asked my wife what was wrong and she said he was sick, I commented that he looked pretty bad and was surprised he wasn’t well enough to even play his favourite Lego game.

She said something to the effect of, “Oh, I know, he won’t even get off the couch,” and then she turned to his direction and says, “You’ve got a man cold, buddy.”

My son is insatiably curious and asked what that was, before I could attempt to dismiss it my wife explains that (and I'm paraphrasing here), “It’s the same cold a woman gets but when men get it they can’t handle it, they cry and complain until they get better.” 

My son didn’t quite understand and asked if it means if boys should be more scared of getting colds than girls. I simply brushed it off and explained to him it’s a generalization that isn’t fair (not in those words exactly, since he’s six), and not to worry. 
He’s still sick today (next day) and is saying he has a man cold. Do I simply let it dissolve and be forgotten? Or do I confront my wife about it and explain we have to be careful about we say?” 

Also read: Remarried with kids: This is how you can perfectly blend your families

Well, UnnecessaryBuffness, this certainly isn’t the best position to be in with your partner. And while you recognise that your wife meant what she said as a joke, your concern for your son growing up thinking “boys should be more scared of getting colds” or even that men “can’t handle” getting sick is unfair to him, and you. 

The way we see it, there are two things to consider in this particular situation, and there is a right way to go about things when you don't agree with your spouse.

Also read: When mom and dad parent differently

1. Be careful what you say to (or in front of) your kids 

I can’t count the amount of times we’ve written at length about what we teach our girls when it comes to being true to themselves. We’ve done away with society’s perception of us being housewives before working women, pretty little girls in pink instead of badass skaters, and submissive and obedient rather than defiant and strong. 

We’ve spoken about shattering the glass ceiling and breaking any and every mould there is, but the same is, or rather, should be true, for boys. 

It’s totally fine and acceptable for boys to fit more traditional gender roles. They can be strong and masculine in every conventional sense of the word if they want to be. But we shouldn’t expect and specifically encourage them to be.

So telling your son he has the “man-flu”, which is any other common cold experienced by women too, mind you, and letting him think men in general tend to overexaggerate their symptoms, is unfair and invalidates his experience. And you may think that’s being a little too woke, but by telling little boys they are helpless, even when it is in something seemingly small like referring to their sickness as a man-flu, sets a particular standard for who they are and who they should be. 

And that’s actually not a joke. 

So that’s why in this particular situation, and any other in which you find yourself questioning your partner’s parenting, you absolutely should say something. You may just need to be a little sensitive, or at the very least, non-confrontational, in the way you say it.

Also read: Dads, you know what's really sexy? You, doing housework

2. Be careful what you say to your partner 

This dad started his post off by saying that he acknowledges the fact that his wife was making a joke. So we don’t need to be telling him, and hopefully anyone else in this or a similar situation, that you absolutely should never directly criticise your partner’s parenting. Parenting is hard enough without anyone putting you down and pointing it out to you. 

So when you first bring up the discussion, don’t start by saying, “Look, the other day you were wrong,” because then my first instinct is going to be to defend myself. Instead, begin by acknowledging what a great parent you think they are.

Mother of four with a BSc in Psychology, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, says in The Gentle Discipline Book, it's important that you first try and understand where your partner is coming from when you have differences in parenting. Then tell them how you feel.

This is how I feel about what you said. 

This is why I feel it wasn’t the best thing to say. 

And I feel we can do this going forward. 

You don’t have to sugarcoat how you feel or put together some sort of compliment sandwich, but you do have to be sensitive, respectful and, well, nice.

"Maintain open (and non-accusatory/non-judgmental) discussion throughout," Sarah explains. 

Give them a chance to speak and respond, while you listen too. This will also ensure it's more of a discussion than an argument. 

The main takeaway is that when it comes to our kids it’s all about what you say, and with our spouses, it isn’t so much about what you say, but how you say it. 

After all, both you, and your partner, are really just doing the best you can at something so challenging, God made it a two-person job.

Chat back:

How have you managed situations in the past when you've disagreed with your spouse. Send your advice we may publish it.

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