When Parents Disagree on Discipline: 9 Steps to Harmonious Parenting


You promised to stay together in sickness and health, for better or worse, richer and poorer. But now, you are in a parenting dispute and cannot seem to agree on anything.

You’re sick of screaming at your children. Your partner is sick of their disrespect. You implement positive parenting techniques. Your partner insists that you send them to timeout. You hate mealtime. Your partner dreads bathtime.

Your children can feel the tension. They know that you are the stricter one and your partner is more lenient. They know who is going to give in under pressure and whose fuse will go first.

There is a need for change.

The standoff cannot continue.

Your children are too important. Your marriage is important. You and your family are too important to allow discipline issues to wear everyone down.

What should you do?

First, take a deep breath. A REALLY deep breath.

My friend, there is hope for your family and you. There is a lot of hope.

I am here to suggest nine tangible steps that you and your partner could take TODAY to establish a new foundation for your home. A foundation on which you both can feel confident as you continue to parent.

Step 1: Find Common Ground

You’re immediately in a power battle if you assume that your partner must agree with YOUR parenting style. This is not about “my way or YOURS”-it’s all about coming up with a strategy and philosophy that you both are comfortable with.

You can start by identifying areas of parenting and discipline in which you ARE both on the same page. It’s more effective to focus on areas of agreement than the ones where you disagree.

Find the positives. You may want to identify the parenting techniques that your partner employs.

Do they encourage?

Does the tone of their voice reflect respect?

Does the child play with them?

Are they consistent?

Does your child have reasonable expectations?

Do they love?

If you are able to say, “I really appreciate how much our children love you,” then that’s a good foundation on which to build.

After all, your partner DOES love your kids. Even though their parenting approach may be different from yours, it comes from a place of LOVE.

It is time to move on and not look back. This is a new start for all involved.

Step 2: Discover the underlying reasons for your disagreements on discipline

Our parents are the greatest influencers of our discipline methods. Whether or not you agree with the discipline style of your parents, the choices that you make as a parent today are in part due to how you were brought up.

Parents are predisposed to follow the same behavior patterns as their parents without new information and outside influences. You’ll often hear moms around the world mutter, “Oh no!” in shock. I sound like my mother !”

Parents who have had negative experiences with discipline as children often swear never to repeat those behaviors.

Conversely (and even more often), those who agree with the methods of discipline used by their parents will use the same strategies or the same language that they learned as children.

You will hear a parent saying, “My parents ______ and I came out okay!”

This is a slippery slope because you’re taking the experience of one person and applying it to a group.

You might hear someone say, “I didn’t wear a seatbelt when I was growing up and I ended up fine.” If this is the case, chances are that the person wasn’t involved in a car accident.

One person’s experience cannot be used to ban seatbelts because someone will inevitably get into an accident and require a seatbelt in order to save their life.

You’ll hear people say in parenting circles, “I got spanked all the while, but I’m fine.” But we can’t allow a single individual’s experience to justify spanking. All children come from different backgrounds and have other predispositions. Or when several scientific studies show that spanking is harmful to children.

This negative impact could be as simple as a quick temper or mild anxiety, but it can also cause emotional trauma much deeper than what you intended.

You should examine your feelings and try to understand why you feel this way.

You and your partner need to do some soul-searching in order to find a common ground.

How does your childhood experience influence your view of parenting techniques?

What aspects of your childhood have you found to be most influential in your opinion about the parenting methods used by your partner?

You and your partner can uncover the root of your parenting beliefs with a little reflection.

Step 3: Start small

Start with your family’s non-negotiables.

These are usually the rules of safety and health (wearing a bike helmet, not driving after dark, etc.). You can also include other values that your family holds dear, such as education (homework is required before playing) and respect (name-calling will not be tolerated).

Decide on what is non-negotiable and communicate it to everyone. You and your partner should both adhere to the non-negotiable rule of “no cell phones in a room.” You will be a united front in the eyes of your children.

Step 4: Consider the Long-Term

Parenting is a marathon and not a sprint, so we need to be thinking long-term.

Imagine your children on their first day at work. Imagine what they will be like when they have their children.

What traits do you wish your children to possess as adults?

Compassion? Work ethic? Thoughtfulness? Respect? Motivation? Resilience?

You can view parenting through a more enlightened lens if you and your partner agree on three or four words that you think will describe your child as an adult.

Ask yourself this question when you are faced with discipline problems on a daily basis.

“What are we hoping our child LEARNS from this experience?”

It’s about more than winning. It’s about more than just winning.

This is about helping your child make the right choices for the future and learning from their mistakes so they can become well-adjusted adults.

If you and your partner share a common goal of raising children who are responsible, compassionate, and respectful, then you can use this framework when making short-term decisions.

As an example:

  • Should you take your child’s forgotten homework to school the third time in a week if you want him to be responsible?
  • How should you react if your child admits that she has cheated on a test if you want her to be compassionate?
  • How can you teach your child respect by modeling it for him every day?

You will find it easier to make short-term decisions if you and your partner agree on long-term goals for the family.

Step 5: Choose a signal

You can disagree about some issues of discipline, but you shouldn’t argue in front of your kids.

Set up a nonverbal signal with your partner to indicate, “we don’t seem to agree on this issue, let’s talk about it away from children.”

95% of issues do not need to be resolved on the spot. This gives both parents time to breathe and make a decision later.

Step 6: Avoid Good Cop, Bad Cop

You mustn’t pigeonhole each other into roles of good cop or bad cop.

The parents who say things like, “Just wait till Dad gets home,” or, “Mom will be upset about this,” are well-meaning.

What does a child hear when mom says, “Wait until dad gets home?” The child is told that Daddy’s the bad cop who is only capable of handling the situation.

If Dad says, “Mom will be upset over this broken vase!” the child assumes Mom is more concerned about the vase.

These statements reinforce the child’s perception that one parent is the “loving” parent and the other parent the “strict” parent.

If you want to appear as one united front, then you both should try to be consistent with your reactions. It is important that each parent feels confident and equipped to deal with any situation when their children are in their custody without having to worry about the involvement of the other parent.

It’s also important not to undermine the parenting decisions of your partner in front of your children. They will share your feelings and act accordingly.

Step 7: Stop keeping score

You’re the one that always has to deal with potty training.

“Why would I help her prepare the children for school if she doesn’t help with bedtime?”

“He is the last person to offer help with homework …”

The silent killer of relationships is scorekeeping. It creates resentment, and you are put on opposing teams.

Consider how your desire for more integrated parenting is affected if keeping a running tally has become second nature.

You should start over and focus on what you like about your partner.

Step 8: Commit Consistent Communications

One night a week, after the children have gone to bed, set aside time to discuss your progress.

Note the most common issues and decide on a method of correction to be used going forward. Remember that the goal isn’t to “win” the battle with your partner but to come up with the best plan for helping your children make the right choices, thereby reducing misbehavior in the future and preparing them for adulthood.

This is not the time to blame or discuss your parenting issues. Instead, it’s time to work together and create a plan. Celebrate your small successes and the positive changes in yourself and others.

Step 9: Get Support

Consider taking a parenting course with your spouse or consulting a third-party, objective resource such as a family counselor if you still disagree after a focused effort.

You can find out more about the pros of both types here.

Remember that you and your partner will always be on the same side, no matter which route you choose!

Final Thoughts

These nine strategies can help you and your partner to resolve disagreements about discipline. These guidelines will help you and your spouse determine the discipline dispute.

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