I have about a million questions for you these days as I feel we are entering into uncharted territory as my oldest daughter is now nine-years-old. I recently saw that you posted something on facebook about reaching out with questions, so here you go!
I would say one of the biggest problems in our relationship is parenting. My older daughter is definitely tuned in and I think she enjoys adding fuel to the fire occasionally. Family dinner is a big issue. I eat most of the meals with the kids and my husband joins us maybe 1-3 times a week. If he’s at all grumpy from work, he can’t handle them being anything but perfect at the table. I can’t tell you how many times we have said, ‘use your fork’ or ‘no feet on the table’, and it goes on and on. The good news is that when we eat out or at other people’s houses, they know the rules and are well behaved. I get to a point where I say to myself that it’s more about the relationship and to stop nagging, because really what’s the big deal? My husband comes from a stricter household and to him, it really is a big deal. I’m more laid back, and he’s very much into manners, even at home, SO what ends up happening is he basically ruins dinner by being so uptight and not just learning to let stuff go, and the kids watch it all go down. What is the solution? It’s causing a real rift between us because we aren’t on the same page and I just am not sure what to do.
Wow. You might be surprised at how often this exact situation comes up in families. It is definitely a problem between the parents and has nothing to do with the kids.
It’s reasonable that you foster table manners at home even if the kids know what the rules are outside of the home. You are laying the groundwork here and it will go a long way in determining if you really want older kids who conduct themselves in the same manner they are exhibiting now. Highly doubtful.
You both have clear ideas about what is important. And, they are both valid. There is no right or wrong way. But, as you said, the kids are watching and your continued fighting about this issue is teaching them all kinds of things that they will later use in their own parenting and in the relationship they have with their spouse. So ask yourself, what are you modeling for the kids and do you want them to model what you are doing? If the answer is no, then it’s time to work on a solution, and the solution is about you and your husband getting on the same page.
So here is what I suggest.
1. Sit down and find out WHY you are more relaxed about meal time. Think about your own childhood experience and dive into it. What was meal time like for you? What memories do you have? If they are good ones, elaborate on why they are good memories. Did you feel loved, accepted, relaxed, fun? Is this what you are trying to duplicate with your own kids? If so, then it’s possible that you could create those same feelings using a different strategy. If you didn’t exercise good table manners, when did they kick in?
2. Likewise, have your husband talk about his own childhood experience around mealtime. What are his recollections? What did meal time mean to him and his family? Did he feel relaxed, connected, and happy during mealtimes? If he did, then he associates those feelings with the way meals were conducted and is trying to duplicate that feeling. Perhaps he remembers being criticized for not sitting up straight or for having bad manners and dinners were a stressful time. Maybe he is trying to avoid all of those feelings and thinks the only way to do that is for the kids to do what they are supposed to and then everyone can relax. Perhaps he would be open to a different way of doing things if he wants the kids to have positive memories of meal time.
This doesn’t mean either of you will change overnight, but it gives you something to work on together.
3. It doesn’t matter that YOU think it’s no big deal and that he should just chill out. Your spouse thinks it’s a big deal and your job is to uncover why and then work with him to come up with a strategy that supports what you both want. You are going to have tougher parenting issues to get through and if you aren’t working together on these daily challenges, it’s going to be tough to work together on more sensitive issues.
Focus on the relationship you have with your parenting partner and make that your priority for a few days, weeks or months. At least until you can come together, support each other, respect each other’s childhood experiences and then decide what it is you want for your family.