The number one situation to avoid is any sort of good-cop, bad-cop parenting setup, where Mom's always kind of indulgent and Dad is a harsh drill sergeant. Kids won't get it: This is OK for me to do when Mom's here, but not OK when Dad's here? Children want stability, they want predictability, they want consistency. They want to know that parents speak with one voice — and let me say that this even applies in a divorce situation. What is the law in one household should be the law in the other; parents can be divorced but still remain united in what is and is not OK for their kids.
But negotiations about what sort of rules and discipline you're going to enforce need to take place outside of a child's presence. Go off and make these decisions, then come back and execute them with one voice. If you disagree, discuss it in private, and realize that it's OK to have different attitudes and opinions about things. I mean, for instance, Robin spoiled our boys terribly....
Robin: Oh, that is so not true. And meanwhile, they had you wrapped around their little fingers....
Dr. Phil: But any time they asked for something, we were together on it.
Robin: They'd come to me and say, "Can we do this?" and I'd say, "I'll talk to your father about it, and we'll get back to you."" And I'd just see their faces fall because they already knew they hadn't been able to play us off each other.
Dr. Phil: You know how a mouse can squish himself down and squeeze through the smallest crack in the house? Kids are the same way. You give them a little crack of daylight between the two of you, and they'll work their way in there and separate the two halves. And you absolutely have to recognize that manipulation when it comes, and you've got to close ranks. Now, the question is how do you come to an agreement about what your position is going to be?
Let me tell you, I was in private practice for years with parents who were fighting over how to discipline their kids. One of them would want it to be one way, and the other one would want it the other way — and the truth is, neither of them were within a country mile of what was in the kids' best interest. It's good to realize that a little bit of your approach and a little bit of his approach will usually get you to the right place, which is somewhere in the middle. So you're not as strict as one of you might want, but you're not as lax, either.
Robin: This is going to sound old-fashioned, but there are certain things that a father is going to understand better and certain things a mother is going to understand better, and you should respect that. I remember one time, Jay was still little and he said he wanted to quit a sports team he was on. I thought, Well, that sounds fine — he's still young and he's going to try lots of different sports and he'll figure out what works best. But I mentioned it to Phillip and right away he said, "No! That's not what you do — if you commit to a team, you stay on the team. A boy should stick to his commitments and not let his team down."
Dr. Phil: And when the boys started dating, you were there to tell them how a girl wants to be treated. For instance, the day of a dance....
Robin: I always told the boys to call their date the morning of the dance, just to tell her how excited they were about seeing her that night. And to always find out what she was wearing, what color, so they could get the right flowers....
Dr. Phil: They would roll their eyes at me and say, "Dad, do I really have to call her? I'm going to see her in a few hours, do I have to talk to her on the phone and act all excited?" And I'd say, "Listen to your mother. Go ahead and do it."
You have to come together on this. And more than anything else, don't make someone else the heavy. No one should ever say, "Wait until your father gets home," or "Wait until I tell your mother what you did." That is just so unfair. Don't make your partner the villain — or yourself the saint either, where you're saying, "I'd get you the puppy, but Daddy would be mad." It's unfair to throw the other parent under the bus because you don't have the guts to jointly own the decision.
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