Richard Hogan: My husband spanks the kids, but lets them on screens all weekend

'Technology has been a serious challenge for my partner and me. It is the main area we fight over, but we also differ on how to discipline the children. My partner will spank the children from time to time and I just don’t agree with it.'
Richard Hogan: My husband spanks the kids, but lets them on screens all weekend

Learning Points: I'm worried my sons are gaming too much.

Dear Richard, 

I am a mother of four, 3 boys and a girl. My eldest is 12 and the youngest is 5. I always wanted to be a mother. My own childhood was difficult and I want to get it right, but I feel I’m not doing the best at it, which really upsets me. 

Technology has been a serious challenge for my partner and me. It is the main area we fight over, but we also differ on how to discipline the children. 

My partner will spank the children from time to time and I just don’t agree with it. We also have fights about how much time the children can spend on their games and my relationship with my son’s has suffered as a result. My partner thinks there is nothing wrong with the boys gaming all day over the weekend and says I’m overreacting. 

My eldest son has started to tell me ‘to calm down’ when I ask them to stop gaming. He has heard his father tell me the same thing. I tried to introduce your challenges, as a family, but none of them would do it. I really need some help.

Thank you for your correspondence, I really do hear your dilemma. You are not alone. There are so many families struggling with the very same issues. It’s easy to think our own family is the only one dealing with a particular issue but technology has disrupted so much of our lives. 

The first thing I would suggest, work on how you talk to yourself about the mother you want to be. It sounds like you had a tough time growing up in your own family of origin. 

Often, when we have a negative experience in our formative years it can motivate us in two main ways, the first is we replicate the dysfunction we grew up with because it is familiar and what we know, the second and what I think is happening here, we strive desperately to ameliorate the things we experienced as a child which causes a lot of suffering because we put ourselves under intolerable pressure to be the perfect parent. 

And of course, there is no such thing as the perfect parent. We are all, hopefully, trying to do our best. So, perhaps giving yourself room to get things right and, at times, get things wrong, might be an important first step. It is incredibly admirable that you want better than you had for your own children. But, be realistic and give yourself a break.

Inconsistent parenting damages a child’s sense of self. Children crave clear messages, when the messages are mixed it causes them distress. I think a calm conversation with your partner is of paramount importance. In the conversation outline, in a non-judgmental way, your concerns about the children’s gaming habit. 

It sounds like you don’t have a technology policy as a family. With children about to move into the teenage years the sooner you bring this into the family the more manageable the storm of adolescence will be. 

Remember, we all bring our family of origin into our parenting. Think about your partner and how they were reared. It sounds like their own childhood wasn’t so conflicted which might explain his laissez-faire approach to parenting. Understanding each other’s position, and not assuming that one is willfully ignoring the other's point of view, is a healthy starting point for a conversation. 

Be clear about what you want to say, avoid blame or judgment in the conversation. When we blame, the conversation ends because the other person becomes defensive and nothing is being heard and no resolution is reached. 

So ask yourself, how will things continue the way they are going? What kind of a conversation is needed to change that? When you’re talking with your partner, really listen to what they are saying and don’t assume anything.

You said your partner sometimes spanks the children and this doesn’t sit well with you. And so it shouldn’t. Again, ask your partner why they feel this is necessary? I would also explain that spanking doesn’t teach a child anything worth learning. 

When we hit a child in response to negative behaviour we are only teaching that child not to do that behaviour in front of us. So, they are not learning why they should choose a more positive behaviour. In fact, spanking can make children more duplicitous as they learn that one parent isn’t safe and change how they act to suit that parent. 

It sounds like your disagreements with your partner are being heard by the children which is causing your child to speak to you in a negative way. I would work at removing that from the family. When we disagree with each other we need to discuss that in an appropriate space. 

Of course, in the heat of an argument that’s easier said than done, but it needs to happen. If yourself and your partner are having a discussion and it is positively resolved in a respectful manner in front of the children that is good conflict modelling. However, if there are names being called and no resolution, we are not modelling good positive conflict resolution. 

Communication is key to bringing healthy change into your family. 

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