When Parents Disagree on Discipline: 8 Steps to Harmonious Parenting – Part 1
You vowed to be together for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, but now you’re in a parenting standoff and can’t seem to agree on A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.
You’re tired of yelling at your kids. Your partner is tired of their disrespect. You try to implement consequences. Your partner insists on sending them to time out. You dread mealtime. Your partner dreads bathtime.
The tension is palpable and your kids notice. They know you’re the strict one and your partner is more lenient. They know who will cave under pressure and whose fuse will blow first.
If there is one thing you can ALL agree on, it’s this: Something has to change.
The standoff can’t continue.
Your kids are too important. Your marriage is too important. Your family is way too important to let discipline differences wear everyone down.
So what should you do about it?
First, take a deep breath. Like a REALLY deep breath.
There is hope for you and your family, my friend. Lots of hope.
I’m here to suggest there are 8 tangible steps you and your partner can take TODAY to set a new foundation in your home – a foundation that you can both feel comfortable standing on as you continue your parenting journey.
Step 1: Find (Any) Common Ground
Start by identifying the aspects of parenting and discipline in which you DO agree. You’ll be more successful by identifying areas you agree on rather than focusing energy on the many areas where you disagree.
Look for the positives. Identify the parenting strategies your partner uses that you appreciate.
Are they encouraging?
Do they use a respectful tone?
Do they play with the kids?
Are they consistent?
Do they have reasonable expectations of your kids?
Are they loving?
Even if all you can say with confidence is “I appreciate how much you love our children,” that is a positive foundation to build upon.
After all, your partner DOES love your kids. And even though his/her parenting style may differ from yours, the discipline approach comes from a place of LOVE.
This is not a time for blame or rehashing – this is a fresh start for everyone involved, so build on your commonalities.
Step 2: Explore the Underlying Reasons why you Disagree on Discipline
The greatest influence on our discipline methods is undoubtedly our own parents. Whether you agree with your parents’ discipline-style or not, the choices you make today as a parent are due in part to how you were raised.
Without new knowledge and outside influences, parents are often predisposed to repeat the same patterns of behavior as their parents. Which is why you’ll hear moms all over the world catch themselves in a moment of shock and mutter, “Oh no! I sound just like my mom!”
For those with negative childhood discipline experiences, these parents often vow to not repeat the same discouraging behaviors on their own children.
Or conversely, (and more frequently) those who agree with the discipline techniques used by their own parents will repeat the same strategies and use the same language they internalized as a child.
This scenario plays out when you hear a parent say, “My parents did _____ and I turned out ok!”
This justification for parenting choices is a slippery slope because you are taking your experience as a single person and applying it to an entire group of people.
For example, you might hear someone say, “I never wore a seatbelt growing up, and I turned out fine.” Chances are, if this were the case, the same person problem wasn’t in a messy car accident either.
This person’s one experience can’t be used to justify banning seatbelts because inevitably, someone is going to get into a car accident and need a seatbelt to save their life.
In parenting circles, you’ll often hear someone say, “I was spanked all the time, but I turned out ok.” But the truth is we can’t let a single person’s experience justify spanking ALL children who come from a plethora of different backgrounds and who have different predispositions. Or when multiple scientific studies tell us it has a negative effect on children.
And sure, this negative effect might be something as simple as a quick-temper or mild anxiety, but it could also create emotional trauma that is much deeper than you ever intended.
If you find yourself using the “I turned out fine” argument to justify your position, I’d encourage you to really dig deep and evaluate where these feelings are coming from.
To find common ground with your parenting partner it’s critical you each do a little soul-searching and discover WHY you disagree.
What parts of your childhood influence your perception of appropriate parenting techniques?
Additionally, what parts of your childhood influence how you feel about your partner’s parenting techniques?
With a little self-reflection from you and your partner, you’ll be well on your way to uncovering the surface of your deeply held parenting beliefs.
Step 3: Start Small
Begin with the non-negotiables for your family.
The non-negotiables are typically the health and safety rules (wearing bike helmets, driving before dark, etc.) and other areas your family values – education (homework before playtime) or respect (name calling will not be tolerated).
Agree on the limits and expectations for the non-negotiables and clearly communicate those to everyone. Be sure you both follow through each and every time on the non-negotiables so your kids see you are a unified front.