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My daughter is six. She is really smart and stubborn. She plays me against my husband, and it’s a problem. She will ask for something and I will say no. Then she goes to find Daddy, and he says yes. Sometimes, he says yes KNOWING that I’ve already said no. Like I said, she’s smart, so she plays us. How can I stop this? How can I make my husband understand how I feel?
Dear Frustrated Mom,
I don’t blame you for being frustrated. This is something that needs to be stopped immediately. When your husband undermines you as a parent, he is saying that he doesn’t value you as a person or a parent. He is saying that what he wants is more important than what you want. It is disrespectful. What it teaches your smart daughter is that Mommy’s thoughts and feelings do not matter. She will continue to play this game, or go directly to Dad – if this isn’t resolved.
You are lucky; you and Dad live under the same roof. A lot of parents have this struggle with a co-parent that doesn’t live in the same house or city.
I recommend that you sit down alone with just your husband and share your feelings. Start with some praise about what he is doing as a parent that you love: I love that you are so involved. I love how much you love our daughter. I love that you take her to karate and school. I love that you pack her lunches. I love that you read to her at bedtime. Then, tell him you have a concern about a pattern you are noticing. “When you say yes, after I’ve said no, I feel unimportant and not valued as a parent or your wife. It teaches our daughter that you don’t think I am important.” Give him a chance to respond. If he gets defensive – table it for a day. Then go back and say “I would like to revisit this conversation.” Keep up the “When you _____, I feel _______. “ Then ask Dad how he thinks you two can fix this together. Maybe before giving your daughter an answer, he can ask her if she’s already asked you – and what you said. Then he needs to stick with what you’ve already told her. And vice versa. You need to ask her if Dad has already given an answer before giving yours.
If one of you gave an answer that doesn’t feel like a good choice – discuss it for next time. But in the immediate moment, whichever parent makes the decision – it needs to be the final word for your daughter. She needs to know that she can’t play you against each other. Present a united front, and she will know that that game is over.
Please remind yourself (and Dad) that you do not have to give her an answer immediately. You can tell her that you need to think about it, discuss it with Dad, etc. She can wait for your answer.
I do believe in allowing your smart six-year-old to argue her case. We want kids who are critical thinkers, not absolute order followers. If she presents a valid reason for you to change your decisions, tell her you will discuss it with her other parent and let her know. Then present a united front either way. “Dad and I talked about it, and we’ve decided _______.”
Finally, I encourage you to ask yourself if there are times when you and/or Dad are micromanaging your daughter. Perhaps your daughter is playing the two of you against each other because she feels a lack of control in her own life. I’d like you and your husband to consider your responses and see if you can find more opportunities to say yes.