Dear Inside His Head,
My husband doesn’t seem to be able to say no to our kids. They’ll go to him rather than me when we’re shopping (for example) because they know he’ll let them buy a certain toy or candy. He works long hours and I think he might be trying to make up for not being home as much, but it makes it harder on me when I try to put limits on spending — or taking them on outings, etc. How can I help my husband understand he’s not doing them any favors by saying yes most of the time?
GRAY: Kids can smell which parent will say yes and which will say no. Whether it’s asking for a piece of candy or the keys for the car, they know how to play the two of you off each other better than anyone else you’ll ever encounter.
I know when my daughter puts on her puppy dog eyes it’s difficult for me not to just open my wallet and say “Here, just take it all.” It doesn’t have anything to do with the hours I work, I just think some kids know how to wrap parents around their finger.
I’d suggest three things to make sure he doesn’t rock the boat too much:
Set limits. Nothing makes me feel better than seeing a smile on my daughter’s face, but the reality is she’ll often be just as happy with something that cost a buck as she would something costing twenty. Set a cap on what he has to spend – or, better yet, suggest they get that money as an allowance so they’ll learn how to be responsible with their own money. He can still have fun with them picking out what they want to buy for themselves.
Back each other up. In the heat of the moment we can forget how saying yes to that piece of candy may be undermining the lesson you were teaching them about finishing their dinner. Take some time to talk about what’s important to teach your kids so you’re not pulling on opposite sides of the same issue. Being on the same page about those goals can keep you covering each other’s backs when the kids zoom in on the weakest link.
Focus on the long term. That $2 pack of gum at the cash register sometimes seems innocent enough, but if you succumb to that every week you’re looking at over $100 a year. Make plans for that family vacation, maybe something really obvious like a jar with how much money you need to make the vacation happen. It’s a lot harder to spend that $2 when you can see how it would instantly make an impact on a long-term goal. It’s also easier for a kid to weigh the merits of a piece of gum they’ll spit out in 5 minutes against some genuine fun, such as a roller coaster ride.
If it’s his standard, go-to move to spoil the kids with material stuff, particularly in a store, it’s likely how he was raised.
Some families put a lot of emphasis on stuff. Likely his dad got him stuff and that’s how he perceived he was cared for and loved. Not always, but you often see this behavior with folks who focus on the material. Often they’re oblivious that they were basically bought off as a child. With some folks, it doesn’t matter. Nature or nurture, you make the call.
It didn’t matter that my dad never had an honest-to-God conversation with me, he bought me a new car when I turned 16.
It didn’t matter that my father never spent four hours with me uninterrupted, understood me, or even ever tried to, since, you see, he paid for my college.
If the stuff equals affection/love link is hardwired in your hubby, it will be slow going getting him to change.
In this case I’d suggest you just point out, when you’re away from the kids, that he’s clearly buying them stuff so they’ll like him maybe he could quit the Santa Claus act for a while and just act like an actual father.
Fathers consider the long term implications of what they do with their children. So they don’t do stuff like lie to to their kids because it’s easier in the short term; or let their kids watch something on TV that’s inappropriate because they want to watch it for themselves or buy them the latest device, or shoes or heaven help us car, so their kids can keep up with trends because they don’t want to face the blowback or even worse. It’s important to them that they look as cool as their peer’s kids.
In the same vein, tell him lovingly that actual fathers don’t let their kids buy everything at a store because it’s a vital lesson to learn that A) they can’t always have everything they want whenever they want it. B) Stuff costs money and even though you can afford to buy them tons of crap, it’s still crap at the end of the day and they don’t need it C) That fathers are confident enough in their relationships with their kids that it can survive the kid being mad at him because the kid didn’t get a Coke, pop-rocks and a bag of sugar at 10 p.m. at Walmart on a school night.
If this is a sudden thing, then I think your assessment that it could be guilt because of all the hours is dead on. Try to be gentle but let him know he’s not doing you any favors because he’s making it harder and harder for you to keep the troops in order. Use some of the examples above but give him more slack if he’s not actually a materialistic numbskull.
Bottom line is, a simple, non-critical discussion is the best solution. He might not even realize he’s doing it. If it’s an ingrained behavior, it’ll take quite a while but you should eventually be able to convince him always saying yes does nobody any favors.
He probably feels like he’s not giving his children enough of his time so he compensates by giving them things. I doubt he’s doing it just to make your life difficult, though. But you can’t tell him he’s doing something wrong.
Raising children requires that the parents come to an agreement about how to best compromise and give their children the direction they can both agree on. You can’t fix the problem if you can’t agree that there is one.
Tell him you’ve noticed he’s been doing this and question whether he thinks it’s happening as well. If he doesn’t, then you need to have several concrete examples. Let him know that since you’re the one that spends the most time with the children, he’s undermining your authority by circumventing the rules and guidelines you’re giving them while he isn’t there.
You also have to give him an outlet to show his affection to the children. Some people see gifts as a way to communicate that, so it just needs to be controlled. Have him do it as a reward for something the children have done for you instead of just because they ask.
In the end you both need to get to the root cause, discuss the impacts of the actions and reconcile to a common approach.