Q&A: getting on the same page with parenting approaches with your partner

Frequent commenter Amy writes:

"My husband and I are expecting our first child together (I have a 4.5 yr old and a 7 yr old from a previous marriage) in May. The closer I get to delivering the more nervous I get about his parenting philosophy. He is a self-professed “old school” kind of guy about most things in his life. This causes a little bit of conflict when it comes to raising the older kids, but he pretty much defers to me in the end as the “expert”. I assume it’s easy for him to do this as he doesn’t see them as “his” kids. Yet this baby *is* his and I fear that our styles are really going to clash. For example, I breastfed the older two kids for 14 months and 12 months respectively. Both of them are still very touchy-feely and attached to me. (I see this as a positive thing, he sees it as negative). He blames their behavior on the breastfeeding and general very hands-on parenting. He’s even suggested I not breastfeed this one so as not to have the same results with an attached child. His theory? He wasn’t breastfed and he turned out just fine. Another example—last night at the dinner table I was telling the kids about their sleeping habits as babies. Eldest child was a terrible sleeper, part of which I credit to his personality and part to the fact that at the smallest whimper I picked him up. Second baby was a great sleeper—again partly due to personality and partly due to the fact that I didn’t pick her up at the slightest noise. I went on to tell them about how much they cried in the night as newborns and this is where my husband jumped in to say that we’ll just let the new baby cry from the get-go because as I proved with baby #2 CIO is the way to go (though he didn’t get that letting her whimper for 2 minutes was not CIO). I tried to explain that you can’t just let a newborn CIO, but he countered with disbelief.

What I need is a book or a website (or series of sites) that will bring him up to speed on modern parenting philosophy. I’m about as moderate and mainstream in my parenting as you can get, so I know I’m not asking him to raise this child any differently than most of our friends are raising their children. But I refuse to use 1960s parenting skills just because that’s how he was raised (and remember… he turned out just fine!). He’s an academic and a teacher so he can appreciate recent studies on how babies/children develop and learn, and how to discipline. (I think he probably really needs some info on bonding as he seems to think that just being biologically linked to the child does the trick.) But I need something that’s not in your face or outside the mainstream, just informative so that when he and I talk about how we want to do things he’s got the right info and not what his mother has said worked for her over 40 years ago (and I’m beginning to fear that this parenting experience might be akin to raising a child with an in-law!). If it can be a great read, even better! So, any book or website ideas to bring my husband into the 21st century in terms of parenting?"

Hmmm. This is an interesting question, because there's so much going on here:

1. How can you help him develop his skills as a parent without taking over the experience for him?

2. How can you help him respect your experience and skills?

3. Is there anything to be done about the fact that he sees the attachment your older children have to you as negative?

4. What books/websites can we suggest to help you?

To me, it seems like the biggest problem is with #3, that he sees attachment as a bad thing. I wonder if he's in touch with how this is influenced by and affects his relationship with his own parents, and how he doesn't need to replicate it with his own kids. If I ran the world I'd tell you he needs to get in to see a good therapist who knows something about family systems theory ASAP to help him work out at least a few of his own issues (cough * denial * cough), but I'd bet cash money that he'd never go to see someone because he "doesn't need to."

I also wonder how this view of attachment (and, consequently, comfort and acceptance) plays out in the relationship the two of you have and how that's going to change once the baby comes.

So I think I'd maybe be looking at this from a whole family point of view, not just a child development point of view. The problem here is that I don't know of any mass market books that talk about attachment within the whole family. There are all kinds of self-help books (the Harriet Lerner Dance of Anger series, for example), but none that your husband would be willing to read if he doesn't know that lack of attachment is a problem.

Which leads to the other problem, #4. I can't think offhand of any parenting books that are going to make a case for attachment as a good thing without sounding too preachy and granola. The obvious choices for gentle parenting and a more attached way of dealing with kids are the Katie Allison Granju Attachment Parenting book and the Dr. Sears The Baby Book, but I doubt your husband will take either of these books seriously, as they both tend to be so far away from what he believes in that they'll be suspect from the outset.

I'm wondering if any readers know of any books specifically about caring for babies that take the same calm, matter-of-fact tones that Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott (and two excellent books based on Ginott's work, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish and Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen) does. What I love most about the Ginott book (and the other two) is that it's so caring to everyone involved. It is clear about setting loving boundaries, but also being very kind in helping your child learn both self-control and expression of feelings.

So. I can tell you what books I wish I could recommend, but I don't know if they exist. Readers? Are the books of my dreams out there, just unread by me so far? What about websites? And has anyone been in Amy's shoes and worked through it?