"I Hate How He's Raising Our Kids"

Listen in as one real-life couple works through a major crisis in their relationship with the help of a marriage therapist.
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THE COUPLE

Stacey: 42, graphic designer
Patrick: 39, IT specialist
Married: 10 years
Kids: Jesse, 10; Sophie, 6

THE COUNSELOR

Samara Fabrick, Beverly Hills, California

THE BACKGROUND

Patrick and Stacey have completely different parenting styles. He's big-hearted but also rigid and strict. She'd rather indulge her children than discipline them. They fight so much about it that their marriage is in trouble.

STACEY

Patrick loves our kids like crazy, but from the start he and I didn't agree on how to raise them. Like when Jesse was learning to walk, he would fall or hit his head and then turn to me and cry. I would reach out to him to help, but Patrick would start clapping and laughing and yell out, "Great fall!" Then he would swoop in and take Jesse away from me and toss him into the air. He thought the tears were a good thing -- something that would toughen him up, but I totally disagreed. The baby needed our love and support.

And it's just gotten worse as the kids have grown. Recently Sophie had a tantrum. She was screaming and crying, throwing her toys on the floor. I tried to soothe her by getting down at eye level and talking it through, and next thing I know Patrick is in the room forcibly pinning her down on the ground with his knees on her arms. I screamed at him, "Stop it! You're hurting her!" And Patrick just raised his voice at me and told me he was handling it. I freaked out.

PATRICK

First of all, Sophie is fine. Restraining her like that calmed her down. If we don't nip these kinds of tantrums in the bud, then Sophie will throw a hissy fit every time she doesn't get what she wants. She uses these tantrums to get out of taking a bath and going to bed. I don't believe everything has to be a negotiation. Sometimes kids need to be told what to do. And this sort of thing happens all the time. Stacey constantly undermines my parenting and wants to do it her way, which is to "honor" the kids' needs. If we're late for school, I'll say to Jesse and Sophie, "This is the third time I'm asking you. Put your shoes on now." Then I'll come back five minutes later and they don't even have their socks on. So I get more forceful and firm with them, and Stacey says, "Don't yell at the kids. You're scaring them." And when I try to defend myself, she goes into victim mode, accusing me of scaring her, too. Then Jesse and Sophie say, "Stop scaring mom!" It's like she makes me into this horrible monster when all I want is for everyone to leave on time.

STACEY

I'll admit it -- lateness is a problem for me. But I also believe in being spontaneous and not so scheduled all the time. I think that a child's pace in life is very different from an adult's pace. They're discovering the world and there's so much going on right in front of them. If you just rush kids through life, you're cheating them. I'll do anything to avoid conflict, but Patrick never backs away from a good fight. His voice gets loud, his body gets stiff, and he starts pacing around and slamming his fists down. I feel like this is a hostile environment for our kids.

PATRICK

That's just how I talk. That's how my family talks. We're a loud, passionate family. When I yell it doesn't mean I'm going to hurt someone, it's just me yelling. It's only scary to Stacey because she's not used to it. She grew up in a laid-back family with hippie parents. The important thing is that my behavior doesn't upset the kids. Of course they don't like seeing their mom get upset, but when I raise my voice at them it doesn't scare them at all. Stacey will be the first to admit this. I've asked her, "Do you think the kids are afraid of me?" And she admits that they're not.

Whenever I'm with the kids by myself, everything runs like a well-oiled machine. Just last Saturday I took them for a hike while Stacey had a spa day alone. We had an incredible time -- no tantrums and lots of laughs. Then Stacey came home to tuck the kids in and they told her they're hungry. I explained that they had just eaten a huge dinner an hour ago and it was time for bed, but she insisted on going down to the kitchen and making them a snack.

STACEY

Call me a pushover, but I'm not going to let my children go to bed hungry.

PATRICK

This is exactly what I'm talking about. She gives them whatever they want and it makes me so mad. We had a huge fight that night.

STACEY

I'm so tired of arguing all the time. Patrick is convinced that I think everything he does is wrong. Last week I asked him to help with the kids' breakfast. He snapped at me because all he heard was an accusation: "Why aren't you helping me?" But that's not at all what I meant. Right now I can't say anything to him without him exploding at me. And when we aren't fighting, we just avoid each other. We don't even make eye contact. We don't sleep in the same bed. Patrick has been sleeping on the couch downstairs and recently he moved into the bedroom over the garage.

PATRICK

We've been throwing words around like "divorce." We both agree it's time to see a marriage counselor because we can't fix this on our own.

STACEY

I want our marriage to work, I really do, but sometimes I wonder if it's actually worse for the kids if we stay together.

 
Continued on page 2:  The Counselor's Turn

 

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