Q: How can we parent effectively when so many of our friends and relatives have values that conflict with ours? This is especially tough when we're all together for the holidays.
Jim: Our counselors would encourage you to begin by making sure that everyone in your household is absolutely clear about the values, priorities and spiritual perspectives that define you as a family. Take the time to provide your children with easily understandable reasons for the rules you live by, and equip them to graciously, but confidently, articulate these principles themselves when asked.
Once this is done, you'll be better positioned to deal with these challenges when your kids spend time in homes where the standards and convictions differ from your own. If you run into conflicts, humbly tell the friends or relatives concerned that while you love them and respect their feelings, it's your responsibility to raise your children in the way you feel is right.
Naturally, you should try to understand the motivations behind their behavior. If it's obvious they're contradicting you out of pure spite or simple lack of concern, don't hesitate to limit future visits until things change.
But if it seems clear that they really love your children -- if, for instance, it's a case of doting grandparents who dole out too many sweets in an attempt to gain a place in their grandkids' affections -- then look for creative ways to defuse the situation by enlisting them as members of your "team." Explain that you're trying to raise your children according to a certain set of standards, and that you won't be able to succeed without their cooperation and assistance. They'll probably jump at the chance to help you out.
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: The scenario you've described, though very common, can have many causes. Communication is a complex thing and is influenced by underlying emotions and learned behaviors.
For many of us men, much of our lives have been spent trading jabs and poking fun at other guys. It's often how we bond with each other. Unfortunately, we have to learn the hard way that it doesn't always have the same effect with the opposite sex.
It may also suggest that your husband's not comfortable having a serious conversation with you. This behavior is sometimes passed down through families who have a hard time expressing their feelings or dealing with difficult issues. The old proverb, "Many a truth is spoken in jest," may also apply here. Often a person may be upset with their spouse, but the only way he or she feels safe in expressing this is through hurtful humor.
Or it could be a problem of sensitivity -- either his lack thereof, or possibly your overactive sense. Both are obstacles to emotional intimacy and should be evaluated honestly. I'd start by looking at your relationships with mutual acquaintances other than your respective families. Does your husband routinely offend them? Do they see him as self-centered and unfeeling? Are you frequently hurt by others? Are you critical, or do you struggle with low self-esteem?
The goal here isn't to assign blame, but to gain an understanding of each other, which is the first step toward resolution. Since this typically works best with the help of a caring counselor, I'd encourage you to contact Focus on the Family for a referral to a qualified marriage therapist in your area. Call us at 855-771-HELP (4357). We're here and happy to help.