Q: How can I be a more assertive mother?

Question: I’m feeling a little lost and alone in my parenting journey. I’m a very sensitive person by nature and throughout my life it’s caused people to ‘walk all over me’ so to speak. I’m completely against CIO, sleep training, schedules, etc. So here’s my question. I want to be able to hold my baby when she cries because she is upset, and as she gets older, listen to her emotions and let her cry about her feelings in my arms when she needs to. But my husband gets angry when she cries at times when her physical needs have been met and when she expresses emotional needs he says she is just manipulating me. He tells her “NO”, and gets frustrated if I go to her at those times. How can I handle this in a confident way when he opposes the way I want to parent?

Answer: Parenting expert Amanda Penel replies… Hi Caroline, it sounds like you feel like you are doing this journey of Aware Parenting all on your own. I often have parents in my ‘tuning into kids’ programme that say the same thing about their partners.

Being an assertive mother

It may take a while to convince him

Sometimes the wife has sent their partner to do the course and I often find the partner making remarks like, “Oh my wife has been saying this all along but I didn’t get it. Now I understand”!

If he is willing could you perhaps send him to a parenting course? I find this often works well for the dads I see. Or perhaps just try tuning into your partner gently and acknowledging his feelings about how you handle your baby. How would it be to say something like the following? “I hear it upsets you when the baby cries… and you worry that she might be manipulating me… I understand your concern.” Then wait to see what he says about his feelings if he is able to express them. What I am suggesting is trying to have an attitude of curiosity and empathy around your partner’s attitude… hard to do sometimes I know! And then you could let him know why it’s important for you that you want to parent in this way and would he be willing to do some reading about it.

I also think it’s good to remind ourselves that we are human and we are never going to be perfect parents. So listening to the part of yourself that feels concerned, and letting that part of you know you’re doing the best you can — and reaching out for support for the part of you that is triggered by your partner, like you’re doing now, sounds like it could be very helpful in making you feel stronger and more able to be assertive. I do wish you the best of luck.

Getting support for yourself by reaching out like you have here is a good start. Having your needs met is really important, so that you can meet your baby’s needs. If you feel strong in the way you do things with your child, it’s easier for you to model to your partner how to parent. The modelling and being strong in yourself is usually helpful, as your partner will see that this kind of parenting works.

Editor’s comments: I love Amanda’s advice that this mom listen to her own vulnerable parts and also opens the way for her partner to do the same. Babies have two reasons for crying. The first is to communicate a need which, if met, will stop the crying. That applies to hunger, physical discomfort, the need to be held, etc. But there is another reason that babies cry (just like adults) and that is when they are experiencing some kind of unhappiness or stress, and need to cry in someone’s loving arms to feel better, just like we do. When that is a need, they will continue to cry when we pick them up, till they have got the hurts out. That can be stressful for some parents. See article Help for Mom’s with Crying Babies. If one parent understands about this but the other doesn’t, it can cause conflict and stress between them, and the baby picks that up too.

Some parents find it very hard to listen to a baby crying, especially if they were not allowed to cry about their own emotional hurts in someone’s loving arms when they were little. So they will do everything they can to shut the baby up (jiggle her, put something into her mouth, etc.) or leave the baby to cry alone until she gives up and stops communicating her needs because she learns nobody is going to come, no matter how hard she cries.

Understanding that sometimes babies need to cry about emotional hurts in their parents’ loving arms can sometimes help the parent who is finding the crying hard to take. If they still feel uncomfortable, finding a ‘listening partner’ who will let them explore how it makes them feel, and maybe also talk about how they were parented can help a lot. In fact it can be a powerful healing of their own unshed baby tears for the parent whose crying was not supported when they were a baby. Most important, as the parents can solve their differences and become more relaxed, the baby will be more calm and relaxed too. So working through this can be a gift to everyone involved!

To learn more about Aware Parenting, and how to handle babies cries without ever leaving them to cry it out alone, you can read this article Crying for Comfort: Distressed Babies Need to be Held.

Recommended Reading on Aware Parenting

  • The Aware Baby, by Aletha Solter. (California: Shining Star Press, 2001)
  • Tears and Tantrums, by Aletha Solter. (California: Shining Star Press, 1998)
  • Helping Young Children Flourish, by Aletha Solter. (California: Shining Star Press, 2003)

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4 responses to “Q: How can I be a more assertive mother?

  1. I am also finding that suddenly my husband seems more like a second child of mine than my support system. It seems many men have a very difficult time with transitioning to parenthood and can’t handle the lack of attention since moms are all over baby suddenly. He supports my parenting style, but seems to suffer from lack of attention anyway. It seems unfair, but I am finding myself having to manage and “take care” of him too. And what about me? How long before I burn out? Is it just a matter of time until he fully gets it and is able to put his “selfish” needs to the side?
    I now understand that women are in fact the stronger gender. Men suddenly seem rather weaker to me…

    • Hi Michaela, I found this only now. I hear you that it feels to you like you have two children, when you need your partner to be part of your support system so that you can be there for your little one. It’s great that he understands and supports your parenting style, and I hope that as time has passed (you wrote this a year ago) his confidence has grown and that he is more involved now. It’s very hard for men to be “daddy” if they were not parented in this style themselves, but often they grown into the role as time passes. Do feel free to let us know how it is going!

  2. My heart goes out to you. I was there in those shoes when my twins were born. I wanted to also point out that it may be worth considering whether your partner was previously controlling of you. In my case my partner’s lack of tolerance for, and effort to quell, my responsive parenting was in retrospect part of a larger problem in our relationship. I ultimately had to get out of what was a toxic situation for me and the children.

    • Hi KM, You made a very difficult decision, and one that might not be right for everyone — but it sounds like it was right for you. Sending you best wishes and hoping that you will be able to find a lot of support for the way you want to parent!

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