Who’s Got Your Back?
December 3rd, 2010

IEP’s second birthday brought with it many of the expected two-year-old challenges.  Most namely strong opinions backed by a strong will.  Among those opinions is, “I hate having my diaper changed, and I really hate Desitin.”  So I was not surprised yesterday morning when I told IEP that it was time for a diaper change and he made it quite plain that he had other ideas.

He whined.  I corrected.  He squirmed.  My voice got sterner as I explained that a clean diaper was non-negotiable.  He shouted, “Nnnnnno!”  Then, like a night in shining armor, GAP walked in from our bedroom, looked down at IEP on the changing table, and in a very deep and very stern voice said, “You do NOT talk to Mommy like that.”

IEP shut right up, looked at his dad and made his “Sorry” sign.  GAP responded, “Say you’re sorry to Mommy.”  He looked at me and made the sign again.  I told IEP thank you, and then GAP left the room to finish getting ready for work.  IEP smiled at me and was unusually cooperative through the Desitin application, and promptly gave hugs and kisses to both of us (GAP had wandered back in) after I zipped his footed PJs back up and stood him up on the changing table. 

Initially I was thankful for GAPs intervention.  Actually, I still am.  It made that particular moment much easier.  But as I gained some distance from it, I began to question it.  What does it say to our son if only one parent is the enforcer? 

Naturally I am grateful to have a husband who has my back.  I am grateful that he respects me and is invested in raising a son who also respects me.  But there is a part of me that wonders if my authority is weakened if its credibility does not stand alone, but requires the endorsement of my husband.  To clarify, IEP does recognize my authority.  He sits in the corner when I tell him to sit in the corner.  He knows what it means when he looks at me as he tries to pick a glass of water up off my nightstand and I shoot him a knowing glance.  And he obeys my instructions most of the time.  But when tantrums strike it is GAP whose voice he is most likely to heed.

I realize that most two-parent families have one parent who wears the disciplinarian hat more frequently.  And I realize that in my own family it is unlikely that GAP and I will be perfectly equal in our disciplinary roles.  But I want my son to respect me and my parental authority because of me, not because of my husband standing behind me.  And further, I don’t want GAP always stuck being the “bad guy.” 

There are times when IEP challenges me and GAP begins to intervene and I call him off.  I want to resolve these toddler issues on my own.  But sometimes it’s so much easier to let my tall and deep voiced husband step in and command our son’s attention. 

So, what’s a girl to do?  I’m eager for your advice on this, so please chime in!

10 Responses to “Who’s Got Your Back?”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Yes, GAP can’t always be there to intervene; IEP needs to learn that your authority counts, too. However, when GAP is around, why not let him? Why not send the message that “Mommy and Daddy are a team?” You have enough moments when you have to go it alone with IEP, so I don’t see anything wrong with accepting help when it’s there.

  2. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    Oh, this is so tricky. Inevitably, I think, one parent slides into the role of disciplinarian. I think what matters is that our kids learn to respect both parents even if the nature of that respect and deference is different in essence. How to teach respect? Beats me. We are talking about two and three and four year olds!

  3. Jeanna Says:

    My first thought is that I have the same problem getting my girls to listen to me every time and my hubby has to step in … don’t stand on the couch, sit down while you’re eating your snack, or don’t color on the furniture.

    However thinking about it, I realize that they are less likely to listen to whoever is currently playing with them. They will listen to the second parent to say the same things. There are plenty of evenings that I will be making dinner and hear my husband trying to discipline them. I have stepped into the room and had to back him up. And that is when they behave.

  4. Anne@lifeinpencil.com Says:

    Dude…I don’t know. I’m so scared that NEITHER my husband or I is going to be much of a disciplinarian…we’re in trouble on multiple accounts. I think one thing that’s important is that you may have a different style of discipline than GAP, and that’s okay. Rather than good cop, bad cop, why not perceive it as just different styles?

  5. Holly Says:

    I have no children and no good advice, but I would not want to be on the receiving end of GAP’s stern voice. Tell him I say hi!

  6. Cathy Says:

    So I have a very similar experience in my house. What puzzles me and I’m yet to really figure out is that I am actually the disciplinarian in the family. So why does my husband command such instant respect.

    I do think that it’s great that he steps in and (as I see it) reinforces the message you are sending, as well as “respect your mother”. I am now parenting a 5’11″ son and there are situations where he absolutely MUST be put in check by his father. What I like is not that my husband takes over, it’s that he reinforces that my son must obey and respect his mother.

  7. Cathy Says:

    Another comment – with regard to the disciplinarian piece, I think it might be because I am the primary disciplinarian that my kids will listen better to their father. He has the fortunate role of being the “fun” parent so when he speaks discipline, the kids listen. They hear it all the time from me, so maybe they just start to tune me out. I don’t know.

  8. Gale Says:

    Cathy – In response to your second comment, that’s definitely how things were in my family growing up. My mom was at home full time, so most of the discipline came from her. But when Dad got mad it was a big deal.

  9. Laura Says:

    First of all, what is it with kids refusing to get their diaper changed? Who wouldn’t want a clean and dry bottom? And, secondly, the fact that you can still get IEP on a changing table makes me envious (we haven’t used one in a year – our little monkey made changing diapers from any height very frustrating and very dangerous). It seems like kids think it’s fun to break the rules every once in a while(do they ever grow out of this?), and I think eventually IEP will get it and realize that while you may not be as big and intimidating as GAP, you still mean business. At least that is what I am hoping for, as I’m afraid our daughter sees neither of us as the disciplinarian. And, it’s not for lack of trying – TLF is very authoritative and I am much more disciplinary (this might be a made up word, but can’t think of a better one at the moment) than I thought I’d be. Perhaps some toddlers don’t care as much about parental disapproval as others – or at least perhaps their level of caring fluctuates on a daily/hourly basis and there’s not always a lot that you can do about it.

  10. ayala Says:

    I think it’s important for kids to know that both parents are on the same page. There is always one parent that will let things slide,but the main thing is for the kids to know to respect both.