Q: Like a lot of parents, I guess, the shutdown this year has really stretched my wife and me regarding how we each interact with our kids. She tends to emphasize the rules; I'm more easygoing. What's your preferred approach?

Jim: Many moms and dads can often be black and white in their parenting. Their approach is like a light switch — all one way or all the other. What kids really need, though, is balance. So, instead, think of your parenting like a dimmer switch with a range of responses that meet your kids at the point of their need.

Take responsibility and affirmation, for example. Some parents flick their switch all the way to the side of teaching responsibility. Their entire focus is on things like being on time, making good grades or getting chores done. The parents' demands are high, but they don't balance it all out with good doses of affirmation. It's all about following the rules.

Some parents flick the switch the other way. They affirm their kids in everything they do, but don't require anything of them. Their sole purpose is to make their children happy — all the time. The problem is that the child gets the idea that they can have and do anything they want... but never believes they should have to correct their own behavior.

Effective parenting isn't about black-and-white thinking. It's about balance. Without affirmation, kids will get discouraged. But they also need someone who will put their foot down and say, "This is right, and this is wrong." Kids need both, and they get it when Mom and Dad parent like a dimmer switch with a range of responses.

Q: Is it fair for me to feel hurt and upset when I see my husband turn and look at other women? He's always been faithful to me, and I trust him. But it bothers me when he acts this way.

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Don't dismiss your emotions. A good rule of thumb in marriage is that a problem for one spouse is a problem for both. So, you'll need to talk with your husband about his tendency to turn and look at other women. But first take time to think through a few basic questions to help you frame the way you share your concerns:

How long has this been going on?

If it's a new pattern, is there anything in your husband's life right now that might account for the sudden change?

Have you been having difficulties in other areas of your marriage?

Another important point is that men and women are wired differently. There's a difference between simply looking and looking with lust. Attraction is normal. When a good-looking female walks by and a guy notices, it's not necessarily the same thing as lusting after her. Lust involves a choice and an act of the will. It's a conscious decision to pursue a desirable object instead of simply allowing it to pass on by.

The issue is whether your husband's "turning and looking" is an intentional choice to pursue, or an unconscious knee-jerk reaction to a stimulus.

That's not to say that "turning and looking" can be dismissed. Any man who wants to honor his wife must learn to let sensory stimulation bounce off without taking root in his mind and heart. As the saying goes: You can't keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.

If you don't feel you can approach your husband about your concerns — or he refuses to open up — there might be deeper issues that should be addressed with professional counseling.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.

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