Does this situation sound familiar?
Mom: “Josh, that was uncalled for. Go to your room this minute! You’re grounded.”
Dad: “Hey Josh, don’t go. Stay here, your mom was being a bit harsh. She’s just tired. Don’t go.”
Let’s face it. You and your partner are going to handle discipline differently. For some couples, there is only a minor deviation in their approaches, but for others, parenting differences can lead to arguments so great that they break up a relationship. So, what’s a parent to do?
Here are five ways parents can work together to overcome their different discipline styles.
1. Use your differences to your parenting advantage.
Chances are you picked a partner who complements you. In fact, you probably fell in love with them for having some of the strengths you lack. Recognize that you both bring qualities to the family.
Perhaps one of you is good at having patience while the other is good at setting limits. You might find that patience is needed for homework, so give that parenting task to your patient partner and leave enforcing a consistent tuck-in time for yourself.
2. Whoever starts the discipline should finish the discipline.
You may feel your partner is being too harsh or lax, but once they have stepped up to act as the disciplinarian in a situation, the most important parenting practice is to have their back. You need to show your children that you are part of a strong, united leadership team in the family. If you look divided and weak, they will play you off one another and more havoc will ensue.
Once they have stepped up to act as the disciplinarian in a situation, the most important parenting practice is to have their back.
It’s also more respectful all around to say, “Your father said you’re grounded, so yes, you need to go to your room. If you don’t think that’s fair, speak to your father about it.”
3. Have sidebar discussions.
Of course it’s OK to discuss your parenting differences together. Just don’t do it in the heat of the moment and in front of the kids. Children don’t like to see their parents in conflict, especially if it’s over them. Children take their parents’ hostilities personally and will feel like they were the reason behind their fighting.
Instead, save your thoughts on how things could have been handled differently for when the kids are out of earshot. If your partner still disagrees, then agree to disagree and continue with your own approach. Think of it this way: different approaches to parenting are better for kids than parents who fight or divorce because of it.
4. Remember: Kids do understand differences.
Children can understand when one parent reacts differently than the other. They also know that you both discipline them differently than their teachers and grandparents. While it is true that children need to experience that people are consistent and predictable, they don’t need all people to be exactly the same.
Children can understand that Mom doesn’t like elbows on the table, while Dad couldn’t care less. What is more difficult is when Mom sometimes cares about the no-elbows-on-the-table rule and other days does not.
5. Have family meetings.
If you hold regular family meetings, you can discuss the rules of the household as well as what should happen if the rules are broken. What if someone doesn’t finish their dinner? What if someone is late for school? Once you have hammered out the family agreements together, both parents are just following through on pre-agreed consequences.