Step 4: Think Long-Term
Remember that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint – and that requires we think long-term.
Visualize your kids when they show up for their first day of work. Imagine who they’ll be when they have children of their own.
What attributes do you hope your children will possess when they become adults?
Compassion? Work ethic? Thoughtfulness? Respect? Motivation? Resilience?
If you and your partner can agree on 3-4 words you hope describe your children as adults, you’ll be able to view parenting with a far-sighted lens.
Then, when tackling the day-to-day discipline dilemmas, ask yourselves the question:
“What do we want our child to LEARN from this experience or discipline opportunity?”
It’s not about winning. It’s not about proving “you’re the boss and they WILL OBEY!”
It’s about teaching your child to make the best possible choices in the future and learning from mistakes along the way so they can grow into well-adjusted adults.
When you and your partner have a long-term goal of raising responsible, compassionate, respectful children, you have a framework to make short-term decisions.
- If you want your child to be responsible, should you drive his forgotten homework up to school for the third time this week or not?
- If you want your child to be compassionate, how should you respond when she admits to cheating on a test?
- If you want your child to be respectful, how can you model that for him on a daily basis?
If you and your partner can agree on some long-term parenting goals for your family, the short-term decisions will be easier to make.
Step 5: Select a Signal
It’s okay if you disagree on some discipline issues – but the key is not to argue about them in front of your children.
Establish a non-verbal signal between you and your partner that indicates “we clearly don’t agree on this one, let’s discuss it away from the kids.”
Since 95% of issues don’t need to be solved on the spot, this gives both parents a chance to take a breather and decide on a course of action later.
Step 6: Avoid Good Cop, Bad Cop
In the same way you shouldn’t disagree on discipline in front of your children, it’s vitally important you don’t pigeon-hole one another into good cop, bad cop roles.
Well-meaning parents do this all the time when you hear them say things like, “Just wait until Dad gets home,” or “Mom is going to be very upset about this.”
What message does a kid hear when mom says, “Just wait until Dad gets home?” A child hears that Daddy is the bad cop and is the only one capable of handling this situation.
Or if Dad says “Mom is going to be very upset about this broken vase!” The child assumes Mom cares more about the vase than Dad does.
Statements like these only reinforce a child’s feelings of viewing one parent as the “loving one” and one parent as the “strict one”.
In reality, if you’re trying to present yourselves as a unified front, you should both try to be consistent in your reactions. Each parent should feel equipped and empowered to handle any situation that arrives when the kids are in their care without threatening the other parent’s involvement.
In a similar vein, it’s important not to undermine your partner’s parenting decisions in front of the children. If your children see you have a lack of faith in the parenting decisions your partner made, they will undoubtedly share the same sentiments and behave accordingly.
Step 7: Commit to Consistent Communication
Set aside some time one night each week, after the kids go to bed, to discuss your progress.
Take note of the issues that have come up most frequently and agree on a correction method to use from now on. Keep in mind that your goal is not to “win the battle” with your partner, but to find the most constructive plan to help your children make good choices–thereby reducing future misbehaviors and training them for adulthood.
Again, this is not a time for blaming or rehashing, but rather a time to come together and map out a plan for your current parenting struggles. Celebrate the little successes you’ve made and the changes you’ve seen in your children and each other.
Step 8: Seek Support
If after some focused effort, you and your spouse continue to disagree on parenting and discipline issues, consider taking a parenting class together or visiting with an objective, third-party resource – such as a family therapist.
If you’re not sure whether an in-person parenting course or an online class is better for your family, you can learn more about the pros and cons of each type here.
No matter what route you take, just remember, you and your partner are on the same team!