How Parents Give Away Their Authority

By RebeccaW, Parent Coach

There’s no getting around it…giving consequences and setting limits makes you uncomfortable.

You don’t like to be seen as “the bad guy.” Besides, your partner is a much better disciplinarian – they have no problem enforcing the rules, and the kids actually listen to them.

It all works out, right?

Not always – if you consistently wait for your partner to take disciplinary action, you could be teaching your child that you have no authority.

For many parents, enforcing the rules just doesn’t feel good. You may not like confrontation, or you may be worried about negatively affecting your relationship with your child. If your co-parent is naturally more assertive with discipline, it can be easier to let them take the reins. This happened a lot in my family – my mom was famous for saying, “Just wait until your father gets home!”

When only one parent acts as the disciplinarian, your actions say to your child, “I’m not capable of holding you accountable.” You end up giving away your authority.

The same situation can occur when threatening to call a teacher, coach, or other authority figure outside the home. For example,

“I’m going to call your teacher if you don’t sit down and do your homework right this minute,”


“I’m going to call your coach and tell him how you speak to me.”

The parent is using fear-based discipline in each scenario, which might work the first few times, but eventually kids start to see through it. Especially if you use the statement as a threat and don’t follow-through.

In many cases, resentment can also build between parents – one parent feels like they have to shoulder the burden of holding the child accountable, or being the “bad guy,” while the other feels like the child doesn’t listen to them.

There’s nothing wrong with waiting until your spouse is home to discuss your next steps. If you need to rely on your partner for something important, James Lehman, child behavior expert and author of multiple parenting programs, wrote specific, effective phrases in his article, Do You Make This Parenting Mistake? “Wait till Your Father Gets Home!”

Here’s to presenting a united front – you’ll both be stronger for it!

Take care,

Rebecca W., Empowering Parents Coach

“Instead of threatening your child with their other parent, present a unified front and emphasize the fact that you and your partner are making decisions together.” – James Lehman, MSW, creator of The Total Transformation

About RebeccaW, Parent Coach

Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated EmpoweringParents Parent Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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