Most couples have experienced this situation at one time or another—you think you should discipline your child a certain way, and your spouse or co-parent wants to handle it differently. You each become entrenched in your position. And what started as a problem between you and your child quickly evolves into a problem between you and your spouse. You are no longer parenting as a team.
At some point, most couples will disagree and argue over how to discipline their children. After all, you and your spouse are different people who will naturally approach parenting differently at times—maybe more often than you’d like. Disagreement in any marriage is to be expected, especially over raising your kids.
For example, let’s say you believe your child should be punished harshly for missing curfew while your spouse doesn’t think a curfew is such a big deal. Or perhaps you disagree on how to handle bad grades, drinking, or an older child who is still living at home and not getting on with life. As a result, you react differently and aren’t on the same page when it comes to consequences.
Here’s the truth: kids know when their parents aren’t unified in their decisions about discipline. And their lack of unity creates anxiety for these kids because they are unsure of the rules and what matters and what doesn’t. And this anxiety contributes to further behavior issues.
Or, and this happens frequently, kids learn to get off the hook for a behavior problem by playing one parent off the other. Kids figure out very quickly that when their parents are fighting with each other, the focus is no longer on them.
Kids also figure out that if they can get one parent to be an ally, then it’s now a two against one battle, and the child-parent team usually wins.
This is not the situation you want to be in with your spouse or your child. It’s why unity with your spouse, even if you disagree, is important in addressing your child’s behavior problems.
Unity is hard, but it is achievable. Following the guidelines below will help you ensure that parenting disagreements don’t destroy the unified front that your child needs to be accountable and to behave appropriately.
Make it a rule that if one parent disciplines a child, the other parent must back it up, even if the other parent disagrees with the punishment. You and your spouse need to present yourselves as a unified team to your child, or it will undermine your authority as parents. Later, when things are calm, and you’re out of earshot of your child, you and your spouse can discuss alternate ways of handling things.
If you are not unified in front of your child, your child will learn that he can get around any parenting decision by playing one parent off the other. Or by looking for help from one parent when the other tries to discipline.
And understand that every time you argue with your spouse over parenting, the focus shifts away from where it should be—your child’s behavior. Therefore, keep the focus on your child whenever your child is present. And address disagreements with your spouse in private.
Note: If you feel that your spouse is physically or emotionally harming your child, then you need to say, “I can’t go along with this.” Then take the necessary steps to make sure your child is safe.
If you and your spouse disagree on an issue and you can’t seem to find a compromise, then try to defer to the parent who feels more strongly about it.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re okay with your 12-year-old going to a sleepover at a good friend’s house. Nevertheless, your spouse is opposed. Your spouse isn’t comfortable allowing your child to have that kind of independence. Or maybe your spouse doesn’t trust the other family. But if you are still adamant about your position, you might say:
“I feel so strongly about this. I’d like you to support me on this, even if you don’t see it the same way.”
“Can I ask you to go along with me on this one, even if you don’t agree? I can’t say that this is the best decision, but my gut is telling me to give it a try. Can you support me on this?”
If your spouse is the one who seems most adamant, try to accommodate his or her position.
Remember, the goal isn’t to get things your way one-hundred percent of the time. The goal is to parent your child effectively and, at the same time, maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse.
If your spouse feels more strongly about something and you’ve decided to go along with their decision, you can say this to your child:
“I know it’s hard for you when we won’t let you go on a sleepover. I see it bothers you because you feel you are ready for this independence.”
You’re empathizing with your child’s feelings, but not breaking the unified stance. When you show empathy, your child also feels he’s understood and not so alone. Nevertheless, your child still must go along with the decision you’ve made with your spouse.
But don’t throw your spouse under the bus. In other words, don’t disparage your spouse in any way. And tell your child that this is a joint decision even if behind closed doors, you and your spouse don’t completely agree.
Consider the following scenario:
When it’s time to do his homework, your son says he “hates math” and complains about his teacher.
Your husband yells at him and says that he needs to bring up his math grade.
Immediately, your child looks to you for help and, as if on cue, you jump in and say, “Leave him alone—he’s doing fine.”
Your husband replies, “If he were doing fine, he would have gotten a better grade.”
Now the fight is ramping up. You respond with, “You’re too strict—that’s why he’s like this. You’re too hard on him.”
Meanwhile, as the fight goes on, your child has his head buried in his phone and doesn’t do the homework he was supposed to do.
In the above scenario, the parents focus on each other rather than their child. And when this happens, the child isn’t held accountable for his behavior, and the unacceptable behavior continues.
And not only that, the fight between the parents raises the anxiety level in the house, which makes it more likely for your child to either act out or isolate himself.
In the end, your child’s behavior won’t change if you’re more focused on fighting your spouse than holding your child accountable for his behavior.
And understand that kids learn how to play one parent off the other, and many kids will manipulate the situation to their advantage. They know that they’re off the hook as long as you are fighting with your spouse.
Talk about parenting decisions when you are calm and can listen to one another’s perspective without being overly critical or attacking.
Calm makes it is easier for you to discuss things with respect. And respect helps you find common ground because respect makes it easier for you to understand each other.
If you are talking with your spouse and find that the conversation is getting more and more hostile, then take a time-out. Take a walk or go for a drive. When you come back later, set up a time to talk. You can say to your spouse:
“Let’s each spend a few minutes talking about this. I’m just going to listen to you, and I’m not going to say a word. I’m not going to interrupt you. Just let me hear why this one is so important to you because you don’t usually hold onto things so strongly.”
And keep in mind that hostility isn’t just yelling and fighting. Hostility can include sarcasm, dismissive comments, put-downs, subtle threats, and other forms of damaging communication. Don’t let your conversations escalate to this level—be mindful when it is happening and take a time-out.
Perhaps it’s difficult for you to understand your spouse’s perspective on parenting because it’s so different from your own, and you end up feeling critical of his way of thinking.
I recommend that you get to know your spouse’s family history and how deeply those beliefs are rooted. It may help you to see things more objectively and less personally, and you will then be able to respond with less judgment. In the process, you will also better understand your own history and belief system.
Try to help each other to see that safety issues and cultural norms change over time. What might have worked back when your spouse was a kid might not make sense now. Or what worked in his family when he was growing up might be different than what will work in your family now.
Remember, this is your family, not your parents’ family. You and your spouse get to decide the rules in your family.
It helps couples to give each other a few minutes to talk about why a certain issue is important. If you can each spend a few minutes just hearing the other person without reacting, then you give yourselves a chance to come to terms with each other. Just listen. And don’t interrupt. Try to understand your spouse’s point of view, and often, you’ll find common ground that you didn’t realize existed. You can say:
“What can we do to compromise?”
“I hear you. Now I understand why this is so important to you. I don’t feel as strongly, but I’ll support your decision.”
Most importantly, you will both know you’ve been heard. And as I mentioned earlier, if you do this when you are calm, it will be much easier to listen constructively.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything and you’re still not able to get on the same page with your spouse, you may need some professional help in the form of a therapist.
A good therapist will help you find ways to talk with each other productively. A good therapist will teach you how to stop fighting over every parenting issue that comes up. And that will help you be unified in your dealings with your child.
All of us have negative communication habits and patterns that we may not notice unless a neutral party, like a therapist, points it out to us. Negative communication patterns may include the following:
These communication patterns lead to escalating hostility. Indeed, what ought to be a normal conversation or a minor disagreement becomes a fight, but not because of the disagreement but because of how you communicate.
The good news is that when couples recognize these habits, they can improve their communication substantially, and the hostility subsides. In the ensuing calm, they can get on the same page or, at a minimum, find an amicable compromise.
Believe it or not, natural differences between spouses can be a source of strength. Differences can help us expand our perspectives and understand one another better. Just understand that differences are a strength only if we can communicate effectively, overlook minor offenses, and forgive one another.
The bottom line is that we all have different ways of communicating and different belief systems—and that’s fine. No two people will to come together with the same opinions and values one-hundred percent of the time.
The important thing is to come together so that your child is not pulled into the middle of your differences.
Challenging Parenting Issues: 5 of the Hardest Things Parents Face
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Empowering Parents Podcast: Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher
For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.
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If both approaches seemed logical, there would be little issue. In my situation, anything other than virtual submission to my spouse's belief on how things should be means to them that I have sided with the child. It is almost an instant and blanket outcome. And if I try to pull my spouse aside for a quick chat, I often get talked to like I'm a child and without secrecy, so now it's "in front of the children" when it did not have to be.
I have even tried asking about it later and it's still the same explosive response. Our children have seen me get belittled and put down, but I am frequently told we have issues because I loud talk her.
I'm no saint, but I have been told so many outlandish unbelievable stories about myself, that it's hard to believe 100% of what I'm told the kids said or did. So I'm always in a bind. I can literally say the can is in the trash and it'll become oh so the can is trash to you. Oh, so I'm trash to you. And that's what's wrong with this whole situation.
No, I'm not exaggerating. How do you overcome only one spouse being committed to solving issues instead of responding like a tape on rewind loaded with false perceptions about everybody else involved?
Thank you for reaching out to Empowering Parents. You ask a question we often are asked. While there is no doubt parenting is much easier if both parents are on the same page, it's common for there to be differences. Ultimately, you can only control what you do - how you respond/react, and how you follow up after things have calmed down. That's where I would try to keep the focus. James Lehman wrote an excellent article that discusses what you can do when you and your co-parent aren't on the same page: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/differences-in-parenting-how-your-child-may-be-using-it-against-you/
We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents family. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going.
No, you’re not wrong. As the parent, you can set limits
around how people interact with your daughter. Unfortunately, it’s pretty
common for grandparents and parents to disagree about how things should be
done. We have a couple articles about how to handle this tough situation that
you may find helpful: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/grandparents-and-parents-disagreeing-11-tips-for-both-of-you/ & https://www.empoweringparents.com/blog/grandparents-relatives-undermining-parents/ I hope you find the
information in these articles helpful. Be sure to check back if you have any
further questions. Take care.
Hey barbm123, my heart goes out to you. It sounds to me that you are doing everything right. But it must be really hard when your Mum panders to your daughter's every need. I'd find that very annoying, and as if your Mum is undermining your parenting.
I think that your daughter is being very disrespectful to your house rules. I know when I was 18, although I was still in school, I felt that I was now an adult, so could do what I wanted.m but quite rightly, my parents told me that while I was living in their house, I had to abide by their house rules.
Now, 30 odd years later, I can see their point, but at the time, I was an obnoxious 18 year old.
I think that you should stick to your guns, hard though it is. Might there be a family friend who your daughter gets on well with, who could have regular chats with her and you, kind of like a liaison person between you? This might help compromises to be reached.
I'm having a challenging time with my teenage daughter just now, but that's another story, and she's only thirteen.
All the best barbm123. You'll be in my prayers xo
@Smiler Thank you so much for your kind response. My mom is 80+ and this is her only grandchild. She dotes on my daughter and yes does pander to my daughters demands My last hope is her court date next week, I'm hoping the judge will lay it on very thick about my daughters behavior. She was charged with assaulting a peace officer just days before her 18th birthday while AWOL from her residential treatment facility. I wasn't there, I found out about this when the facility called me less than an hour after it happened. Because she was a minor at the time, I have to go to court with her. Mom, of course, is opting out of the negative stuff because, as she put it, 'can't handle it'. I wish we had a family friend that my daughter could connect with. Due to her diagnosis of 'oppositional defiant disorder' she has little trust for most adults. I, too,lived in my parents home while in college and I understood that 'their house, their rules' applied as long as I wanted to remain at home. My daughter doesn't comprehend this . She is so bright and intelligent, so full of potential that it breaks my heart to see her waste what God has given her. Some people mature later in life, so I'm still hopeful that something will turn her around,
Thank you again, for your kind reply, I also appreciate your prayers, I trust fully in God's grace, but living through this is very challenging, it's comforting to know that you and others care.
I've never posted in one of these blogs and I'm not even sure how I found this blog but I feel I have to respond. I was a horrible 18 year old to my mother. I was the daughter she always wanted until I turned 14. I got into the wrong crowd and just went downhill. I was so bad that it hurts my heart to even mention what I did and said. I ended up becoming addicted to drugs at 19 and my mom couldn't do anything because she developed chronic migraines. I didn't really speak to my mom for about 6 years. I got clean, one year later, became pregnant and when my son was two, my husband convinced me to talk to my mom again. I was so apprehensive but I did. I didn't know how to feel, my mom quickly bonded with my kids but it was so hard for me to hug her or be close to her because I had been so horrible to her. It all came from one horrible person who manipulated me in high school, I take responsibility for my actions but if not for her, I would have never treated my mom so bad.
Anyway, my mom quickly bonded with my two babies and I'm 31 now and I still have a hard time communicating with her and hugging her goodbye and telling her i love her but I can tell you that she never gave up on me and she loved me at my absolute worst and she is the best damn mom and grandmother I could ask for. You are doing a great job and I feel like this is an awful phase but if you can stick it out she will apprieciate you for it and know that she is valuable because you had her back at her absolute worst. I'm a late bloomer. I went from being addicted to meth and not giving a shit about my self to becoming a registered nurse. I graduate in May 2017. I will never be able to take back those years but I'm not going to spend another day not loving my mother.
She will come around, just remind her that there is nothing she can do that will ever make you stop loving her. She won't listen now but she will remember your words later. Good luck.
I can hear how much your husband’s behavior is bothering
you. It can be tough to watch someone you love be treated in a way you consider
unfair. It might be helpful to talk with your husband about your concerns
during a time when your son isn’t present. It’s possible he may not be aware of
the impact his response is having on you and your son. You might also consider
enlisting the support of a neutral third party, like a marriage or family
counselor. Many parents and stepparents
have found this to be a productive way of managing differences and getting on
the same page. We appreciate you writing in and wish you the best of luck
moving forward. Take care.
I am so sorry you are facing these challenges. It is an
unfortunate truth that kids can cause issues in a marriage. This seems to be
especially true when your child has special needs. It may be helpful to find
someone in your local area you can talk to about the issues you are facing. The
211 Helpline would be able to give you information on support groups and
counselors in your area. You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling
1-800-273-6222 or by going online to http://www.211.org/.
Many parents have found respite in being able to talk directly with people who
can understand what they are going through and can offer some guidance on what
they can do to work through the challenges they are facing. Best of luck to you
and your family moving forward. Take care.
It can make it more challenging to parent effectively when
both parents aren’t on the same page. It may be helpful to know that it’s
actually more common for parents to disagree than it is for them to always be
in agreement about how to address behaviors they are seeing, so, you’re not
alone in dealing with this frustration. It may be helpful to sit down with your
husband at a calm time when your son isn’t present to discuss the expectations
you each have as far as your son’s behavior. You might even come up with a list
of possible consequences that could be implemented when house rules are broken.
You want to take it slowly and focus on one acting out behavior at a time. This
will help keep everyone on task and lessen the chance of anyone feeling
overwhelmed. Some people find it helpful to involve a neutral third party, such
as a marriage or family counselor. The 211 helpline could give you information
on available resources in your area should you decide this would be beneficial.
You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222. In the
meantime, you may want to read this article by James Lehman for more tips for
getting on the same page as your spouse - Differences in Parenting? How Your Child May Be Using it Against You. Good luck to you
and your family moving forward. Take care.
I have been in the same exact situation you are in for the past 30 years. It hasn't gotten any better. My husband still says the same thing to me I don't need back up and they don't listen to me because they don't respect me.
This has made for a VERY unhappy marriage. I hope you have gotten help and it has stuck and your husband is now backing you up
PLEASE let us know how you are doing.
I have been when my boyfriend for five years now. We don't have children but we discuss the idea of having children and the way we will raise them often. Every time we talk about this we always end up in a disagreement ! He has a total different mindsetMore on how he thinks children should be raised/disciplined and what rules should be set. Its so annoying and makes me upset every time we have these conversations. I'm starting to wonder.. Maybe we shouldn't have children together because we are not compatible.