My Husband Won’t Pick Up or Comfort our 12-Month-Old Because he Says it Will Make Him Soft
You raise two important issues: how to respond to a toddler who is upset and establishing a way for you and your husband to effectively communicate and resolve child-rearing challenges when you have different ideas about them.
The first issue to think about is this idea of raising a child to be “soft.” I am assuming that for your husband, his concern is that comforting your son will not make him independent and able to handle challenges—that he will always look for and expect someone else to help him when is upset. Your husband is not alone in his beliefs. Many dads, and moms too, share this concern. These ideas often come from the messages parents received from their families as they were growing up. And of course, many come from a person’s ideas about gender—that for a boy to be “tough,” he shouldn’t cry or need help when upset.
I am also assuming your worry is that by not comforting him, your son may feel insecure and less trusting of you, which in the end may be what actually makes him “soft.”
What tends to happen in situations in which parents disagree is that they get polarized. Both argue their points and the more they defend their position, the more extreme a stance each needs to take in order to make their point.
A much more useful approach is for each partner to start by looking at the big picture. You both want your son to grow up healthy and strong. You both have his best interest at heart. Neither of you want to harm him. You simply have different ideas about what is going to help him reach this goal.
Next, each of you clearly articulates what you think and feel about the situation and why, while the other listens without interrupting. As you listen to each other, think about what your partner is saying that makes sense to you and validate that. In this case, you might validate not your husband’s behavior, but his underlying intention—to help make your son a competent, independent person. It would also be helpful to point out some things your husband does with your son that help him thrive. Having been heard, and also complimented, your husband is much more likely to be open to hearing your thoughts and feelings.
Children are not born with the skill of managing their own strong emotions. In fact, young children ultimately learn to comfort and soothe themselves by having the adults closest to them comfort and soothe them. When parents and caregivers help children calm down when they are sad, scared, angry, or overwhelmed, children are better able to manage their own feelings as they grow.
The response that would most benefit your son actually takes into account both your and your husband’s beliefs and values about child rearing. Here’s how it might look in “real-life.” Your son falls down as he is playing a chasing game with you. He starts to cry.
- You or your husband say something like, “Uh oh! You fell down.” (Use a loving, but matter-of-fact voice, not one that is overly concerned or panicky because kids pick up on their parents’ cues about how to feel or react to any given situation.)
- Provide some physical comfort, a hug, or a gentle stroke to the affected area of his body.
- Encourage him to play again, letting him know you think he can do it.
By combining your approaches, you and your husband can team up in this extreme sport we call parenting.