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Many relationship advisors tell us that we can’t change our partners. While we can’t overhaul their personalities or change their biochemistry, we certainly can exert a profound influence over their lives, which can lead to changed behavior. I have found this to be especially true when it comes to mothers and fathers. A mother can influence how her husband parents and vice versa—even if they are divorced. So if you would like your husband to be a better father or would like your wife to be a better mother, read on.
Think about the one or two people in your life who had an impact on the person that you have become. They made you better because of how they related to you: they made you feel capable, valuable, and strong. Chances are they were respectful, encouraging, and spoke affirming words to you. If they had criticized you and continued to point out all the things that you were doing wrong, you would have listened and felt poorly about yourself as a man or a woman. And you would be different today.
In those past relationships, we find the keys to unlocking the greatness of our spouses—particularly when it comes to how they parent. If we apply some of those same principles to how we relate to our spouses (or ex-spouses), we will find that we can exert the same positive effects on their parenting. (Unfortunately, most couples do exactly the opposite. We uncover the mistakes our spouses make with our children and then hammer on them to change, threatening them that if they continue their mistakes, they will ruin “our” children. We need to stop this.)
Here’s where we must start:
Give random words of praise. When your spouse does something nice for anyone, tell her that she’s kind or that you admire her. Encouraging words repeated over time change how a loved one sees herself. This requires self-discipline to extend to others.
Never criticize him in front of the kids. A man who is cut down in front of his children loses on two fronts. He feels worse about himself, and equally damaging, the kids lose respect for their father and treat him differently. These two are very destructive to effective parenting.
Pull out the duct tape. When you are ready to take a swipe at your spouse and “point out” how she should do things differently with the kids, hold your tongue. I visually put duct tape over my mouth. If you really have an issue, wait two days to discuss it, and I guarantee that your tone will be very different.
Stop complaining. We all find fault with our spouses, and we complain about them. But doing this accomplishes two things. It makes us over-focus on our spouses’ faults, and it makes us more negative people. Complaining never leads to anything good.
Extend grace. When we focus on our spouse’s attributes rather than their faults, we appreciate them more. When we appreciate them more, we speak more kindly and they feel better about themselves. When this happens, they parent better. Every parent makes mistakes—including you. So be more forgiving and give your spouse a break.
If you really want to help your children grow up to be solid and successful adults, give them one of the best gifts that you can: help their other parent. They need a strong relationship with that parent, and you can do a lot to make that happen.
Pediatrician and mother Dr. Meg Meeker is the best-selling author of six books, including the well-known Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. This spring, Dr. Meeker releases a DVD study for small groups, based on the popular bestseller. Married to Walter for 30 years, Dr. Meeker has three daughters and one son. She has practiced pediatric medicine for 25 years.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on which of these 5 action steps is most difficult for you and how you are working to improve in that area. Please share your thoughts with me below.