Gentle Parenting & Co-Parenting Can Be Hella Hard On Your Marriage

I am quiet when it gets like this now. I feel disconnected. Powerless. I hear her whining and crying —my 3-year-old demanding to have things her way. The baby smiles at me, having been plopped on the floor. I look at her half smiling back. I am waiting.

I can feel the brush of my older daughter’s skin on my arm still. The weight of yet another one of her hitting tantrums still there even in her absence. Her father has scooped her up and removed her from the situation: family time in the living room gone wrong when I asked her to stop climbing on me a few times, and hitting me instead seemed like a better option. My husband reverts to protection-mode — this kind of thing will not be tolerated.

He’s aware of my preference for gentle parenting. He’s also aware of his propensity to something different. We have had dozens of conversations as we try to figure out how to manage with different parenting styles.

Courtesy of Christie Drozdowski

It is sucking the life out of our relationship. I’d once thought that working out our family life would bring excitement to our marriage. In the dreamy, pre-children days when we would throw hypothetical situations out, it was our values for the same things that inspired us to start our (now seeming) idealistic family together. But like most adulting, the perceived notion of things isn’t real life. How were we to know except to experience it?

We’re disagreeing — no, arguing — over how to do things. We’re hurting each other and don’t exactly know how to stop. However, in the heady moments of an altercation in front of our children, we’re learning, is not a healthy time to communicate our differences. But good god, how many times are we going to have to make that mistake?

“What do you need to talk to Mummy about?” my husband asks our daughter after they’ve both calmed down from his more abrupt style of handling the hitting situation. “I don’t want to talk to mummy,” she says. Truth is, I’m not sure what to say to my daughter either now, and I tell my husband this. The conflict was taken out of my hands, and it’s hard to come back to it. I feel cornered into just letting it be, which is now the best option to me. My daughter and I will be back at this place soon enough, I suspect.

We’re coming at parenting from different places — having inevitably become different people post-babies.

In the waiting, I can see that my husband’s intention was to defend me, not to bulldoze over or usurp my parenting role. Now both of us have to take those two very different things into consideration when we try to make things different for the next time.

Watching my husband have moments of non-gentle parenting and vice versa sucks. Because gentle parenting is such a work in progress and honestly a self-improvement method (I don’t know anyone who gentle parents perfectly all the time; no one is that patient and calm in parenthood!), when my husband isn’t getting it right, it’s natural to pick him apart. And when I’m struggling, he can easily use my parenting rhetoric against me. The ensuing result is us both feeling disrespected. Yes, we are two adults who love each other and yet still do this to one another. Slowly but surely though, we are seeing ourselves in those weak moments like a mirror. We can hear and see the damage that occurs, and it spurs us on to changing individually.

Us pre-children at the baby shower wide-eyed with anticipation and no clue. Courtesy of Christie Drozdowski

In all of our pre-kid talks, the one thing we couldn’t have planned for is how having children would change us. Who could have shown us the people we would become after our experiences of creating two children together so far? Who could have explained to us the effects going through two labors and births together — the initial one being a C-section that led to the NICU, the latter one being the total opposite, a calm home birth? Does anyone, ourselves included, truly understand the complexities and implications of the metamorphosis that occurred within each of us when we became parents and then became parents to two?

I still believe our dreams of our family life can be achieved.

Now that I see we’re coming at parenting from different places — having inevitably become different people post-babies — it’s sometimes really hard to sit with. Who is this man that seems more stressed, a bit more angry than usual, the weight of the world — the responsibility to provide for his growing family — now resting on his shoulders? Who is this woman who can’t seem to understand her many emotions? And why are the clichéd and sometimes true biological differences as mother and father that we face as my husband has brought up bothering me so much? Giving my husband room to be "daddy" in his own leaning and to react to fatherhood as he needs to is important and helpful, though, just as holding space for myself and my change is.

Photo courtesy of Christie Drozdowski

Finding the joy in our co-parenting might feel like a mammoth task most of the time in this stage of child-rearing, but I choose to believe that the work is worth it. Growing ourselves, growing our relationship to withstand this challenge can only bring us closer in the end — even if it looks like things are sometimes falling apart now. In truth, I will accept parenting (and specifically trying to gentle parent) to be the great unraveling of us if it means tying our knot all over again will make it stronger. Call me a dreamer, but I still believe our dreams of our family life can be achieved. Why else would I continue to gentle parent, even when it’s this hard on my marriage, if I didn’t believe in its benefits to our family — and to my relationship with the man with whom I created these children?

I’m incredibly hard on my husband. I’m definitely hard on myself, but my goal is to be gentle on my children. That, above all, is teaching me to be gentle on my marriage right now — however hard that is.