My husband and are always fighting about the kids. He says I never listen to him on parenting but why should I when the things he says are ridiculous. If it were up to him even our boys would be pregnant and all three of the kids would have flunked out and be in jail. How can I get him to understand that I’m not going to listen to stupid ideas but I would really appreciate it if he would come up with some good ones because I’m really tired of doing all of this myself.

Married Single Mother

Dear Married,

Wow. You are busy. I could see why you would be wanting a slave. And that’s of course what your husband would be if he was raising his kids according to only your personal guidelines, thereby ignoring the value of his own wisdom and experience. Look, I’m sorry to be blunt but I had to rewrite your question just to tame it down for public consumption. Simply put: talking about your husband in those terms is unkind, unreasonable, unloving and most certainly unhealthy for your marriage.

421 Relax and Succeed - Hearing is simply sound wavesI’m sure you’re an able and dedicated parent and that you live your life always intending to do the best you can. But it is arrogant to assume you have a personal monopoly on all of the parenting skills. I guarantee that if I ask the kids they’re more likely to list their father as a guide more than you. Because just in the provocatively aggressive way you phrased your question I’m able to tell that you’re extremely likely to come across to them as a tyrant, whereas he would then be seen as a wise man deserving of pity. He may not be tough but he’s got good lessons on how to stay out of trouble.

Let’s talk about listening since that’s what your husband asked you to do more of. Listening is not just hearing someone and then comparing the shape of their thoughts to the shape of your thoughts and then telling them yes if the shapes are the same or no if they are different. You’re not here to judge anyone (yourself included). As I often point out to couples arguing over parenting, the person each of you is arguing with is the one person you chose to have children with out of a possible 3.5 billion other candidates. Surely that person’s as trustworthy as a $25 a night babysitter. You did choose to attach yourselves to each other for life. So maybe if you had that much confidence you could also believe that they might know a thing or two about how to deal with other human beings they deeply care about.

So you’re both worth listening to. And real listening is when you take another person’s idea seriously. You listen for what the objectives are, the potential, the challenges and the rewards and then you weigh that and decide whether or not to act based on your results, not on an initial rejection simply because the idea doesn’t line up with your preconceived notions of how things “should” be. Your opinion should be a flexible thing based on experience. So you can’t reject things because they don’t align with your current opinion, otherwise you would never have any experiences with the potential to change that opinion. If you don’t do that you’re essentially saying that you’ve prevented yourself from growing through experience.

421 Relax and Succeed - Where the ego singsDon’t just hear the words and then spew back your pre-recorded answer. Actually engage with what they’re saying. Take it seriously. Do thought experiments with it. Truly wonder if it could work. And if you’re unsure, feel free to test it. But you can’t say you respect someone if you won’t even try something that they are strongly recommending as being good parenting. Surely you both know that you feel the same way about your kids. They’re like extensions of yourselves. No parent has a monopoly on the feelings of love or protectiveness that accompanies having children. Both care deeply, and all advice comes from that place, no matter how much it might clash with your current beliefs.

Your spouse should be the (or one of the) most respected advisers in your life. And because you’re married, you will already align on most things. But the stronger your disagreement the greater the difference of opinion. So those are the cases in which both parties should be most prudent. Because if there’s enough to worry about that you’re going to actually get angry, then the price is high enough that it’s worth it to tread carefully and ensure we’re making the wisest decisions.

Our partner’s lives are deeply intertwined with our own. It therefore behooves us to take their thoughts into serious account. And to do that we really must learn to quiet our own judgmental inner voice and instead just focus on carefully listening to the wisdom that is being so lovingly offered to us.

Stop busying your mind thinking of replies or opinions when people are still talking. Just listen instead. Listen as an activity unto itself. Do this and you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve been missing, and how helpful it will be now that you can hear it.

Listen carefully. Enjoy your days.

peace. s