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Moms Says, Dad Says

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Parents often disagree. But what do you do when the disagreement is over a parenting or discipline approach?

I read an interesting statistic in a parenting magazine article. The article quoted a 1997 study by Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg, the co-authors of Fighting For Your Marriage. This study showed that the number one thing couples argue about is money, and the number two thing is kids. But in a second marriage, those issues are reversed, with couples fighting more about kids than about money.

parent, fighting, disciplineIt can be frustrating to watch your partner handle a situation differently – or in the polar opposite way – than you would. But because differing opinions and disagreements are bound to come up, the most important aspect is how those differences are handled. If one parent is constantly giving in and saying nothing, that’s a problem. If parents are forever fighting in front of the kids, undermining one another and telling kids it’s ok to disregard what the other parent has said, that’s a problem, too.

The key is to present yourselves as a team or a parental unit, even if the other parent is doing something you don’t necessarily agree with. While it is important to be on the same page in terms of parenting philosophy, the time to debate is not the moment after your son refuses to take the garbage out or your daughter comes home with a failed test. Those discussions are better had away from the kids, who will sense the disparity and be tempted to play one parent off the other.

So what should you do if your partner is disciplining your kids in a way that you don’t agree with? Unless it’s dangerous, don’t do anything. At least, not right then. Wait until the moment has passed and you and your partner are alone, and discuss it then. Come to an agreement about how these situations will be handled in the future. And if you both agree that the situation was handled in a less-than-effective way, go back to your kids and say so. If you approach your child as a team and tell him that you think that there was a better way to handle things than the way you chose, that’s ok. Who says you don’t get do-overs as a parent? As long as both parents are on the same page and in agreement on the do-over, there’s no reason not to amend your earlier statement. Especially if it was a little over the top due to the anger in the heat of the moment.

I see a pattern with the parents I work with -- perhaps this is true for your family, too: usually there’s one parent who reads the parenting books and looks into solutions to discipline problems, and then the other parent gets the theory and details second-hand. Does that sound like your house? While this is a realistic solution for our time-pressed lives, it can leave the “second-hand” parent at a bit of a disadvantage. It’s hard to keep from reverting to old habits when you’re face to face with a situation that seems to beg for immediate action and you’re not entirely sure what else to do. Try to keep this from being a factor by keeping the communication going, sharing the reading as much as you can, and talking about your parenting approach away from the kids.

Sometimes, despite the lack of agreement on discipline, the disrespect, resentment, and lack of connection between parents is the greater problem. If that’s the case in your house, it may be time to consider counselling for the two of you. In many cases, open communication can solve the disconnect between parenting styles, and the tips I’ve outlined here are a great place to start.

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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