Parenting as a unified front
How can you and your husband present a unified front when disciplining kids? I don't know what it is, but kids seem to be so skilled at taking advantage of any parenting weakness. It's like they received specialty enemy combatant training in utero. Seriously. They seem especially skilled at taking advantage when my husband and I experience cross-communication in some way. They hone in on the differences and pipe in, "But Mom said....!"
As in-tune as you and your partner may be, cross-communication happens. One parent says one thing, the other parent says another. It's rarely, if ever, intentional. The kids pick up on this immediately, of course. Time for damage control.
Unless the cross-communication is due to a conflict in parenting philosophy, the issue can usually be resolved quickly - and it's best if it is. For example, if one parent says the child can have something after the other parent has said no.A quick pow-wow with your partner should do the trick - and it should be done without frustration on either part. Recognize the situation for what it is, an unintentional cross-communication. You can say to your partner, I said no (or yes) for this reason, listen to why your partner said the opposite and come to some agreement for the future. I do think that, for the most part, both parents should stick to what the first parent said, else reinforce the child's divide and conquer strategy.Then simple pow-wow should be followed by a brief conversation with the child, and you probably can keep it light while being firm. "Hey, kiddo, nice try there. But when Dad says no, it's not okay to come to me for a different answer."
If the conflict is about a deeper issue, it's time for a deeper conversation. That can be a bit tougher. Sometimes we forget to continue to have conversations with our partner about how we want to parent. With the busy-ness of households and as the kids get older and we get comfortable with what has been, we can forget to keep discussing what will come.Especially as kids get older, our experiences from having been parented come into play. It's easy to look to a book when the kids are small, but as they get older there are so many more variables. What was okay in when you were 8 or 14, might not have been okay for your spouse when they were 8 or 14, and responses may come from that experience - and we may not even stop to think that the other parent said something different.
Check in with your spouse
Regular check-ins with one another are essential, general discussions about what is going on and how you feel about them. Several times I've said to my husband or he has said to me, "Woody has been expressing an interest in (whatever), and I'm thinking (whatever)." It's given one another a heads up, and headed off that cross-communication.If you at all question a request from your child, the response shouldn't be, "Ask your mother," or, "What did your father say?" but, "Let me check to make sure your mom and I are on the same page." A few responses like that should give you child the signal that they can't divide and conquer.The most important part of all of this is making sure your kids know you are united, that you work as a team. Cross-communication happens to every parent, in every family. Preventing it from becoming a deeper issue is well within our abilities, however.