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When mom and dad disagree on discipline

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Parents finding middle ground

Almost as maddening as a child's misbehavior is the inability of a husband and wife to agree on how to address the problem.
Don't send your spouse to timeout
Parents arguing

If you and your spouse just can't seem to see eye to eye on discipline, consider employing one of the following techniques to come to a consensus.

Many couples assume that they will parent well together simply because they love one another and enjoy each other's company. Parenting conflicts, however, are a common source of contention between spouses. We spoke with Dr. Tina Paone, clinical director of the Counseling Center at Heritage in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, to get her advice on how to manage parenting conflict between spouses.

A common source of disagreement

Just like disagreements about finances and sex, parenting choices can become an ongoing argument between spouses. Discussions often grow volatile because parenting choices are tied to individual values and experiences with parenting from childhood. "Varied parenting styles can be a point of contention between spouses because parenting 'norms' vary from person to person," Dr. Paone said. "These ideas are learned during childhood, and your spouse's parents parented differently than your parents did when you were a child."

Typical "hot button" issues

Although parenting arguments can take countless forms, Dr. Paone grouped typical disagreements into two separate categories:

  • Punishments: Spouses often view discipline quite differently, as when one parent wants to discipline a disobedient child with a time-out while the other parent wants to use a spanking.
  • Child responsibilities: Disagreements about child responsibilities often stem from the responsibilities each parent carried during their own childhood. For instance, one parent may think that the children only need responsibility over schoolwork, and the other parent believes it's necessary for the children to carry after-school jobs, as well.

Creating a united front

No matter the situation with your spouse, Dr. Paone states that it's extremely important to present a united front to the children at all times. Here are several techniques and best practices that Dr. Paone recommends to build a united front with your spouse:

  • Provide insight into your opinion: Simply saying, "Because I said so," isn't a great practice with either spouse or children. When possible, explain the thoughts, beliefs and values that lie behind your stance.
  • Revisit when anger subsides: It's unlikely that you and your spouse will make any progress towards a resolution if a disagreement grows heated. Take a break for 20 minutes and try again once you've both cooled down.
  • Delegate parental responsibility: Rather than arguing about every parenting decision, just delegate responsibilities. For instance, mom can make all final decisions about school while dad makes all final decisions about extracurricular activities.
  • Don't allow children to take advantage: As they grow older, children have a tendency to take advantage of the parent they view as more lenient. If this behavior is allowed to continue, it can erode trust between spouses. Once you and your spouse come to a consensus, it's important to stick to it with the children.
  • Never disagree in front of the children: Sometimes situations can grow tense, but it's important to not allow children to overhear parenting disagreements when they arise.

When all else fails

Finally, Dr. Paone stated that co-parenting counseling is beneficial for couples who are tired of disagreeing but don't know how to come to a consensus. The process is helpful for married and divorced couples alike. Finding ways to agree on parenting will benefit both your relationship and your child, so it's important to invest in solutions that work.

More parenting tips

Mom vs. Dad: The discipline debate
Help! My kid is annoying
How to avoid being a helicopter parent

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