Parenting and discipline is a subject that is often up for debate between parents and step parents. What does a couple do when they don't agree about enforcing the limits and how do they get on the same page? This is the topic for this article. If you're a parent who disagrees with your spouse over disciplinary measures or if you're a step parent who can't get on the same page with your spouse about your step child's behavior, then read on.
The first thing to realize about a difference in values with regard to child discipline is that it's very common. Each of us brings with us to a partnership or marriage the unwritten rules and norms for behavior that we grew up with. In this way, we come to marriage with a unique set of values that often do not make themselves known until we start raising children. This is when conflicts can arise.
Of course, this situation is amplified when you enter into a relationship with a spouse whose children (your step children) were not raised initially by you and your spouse and who may only be living in your home part-time. If your partner's ex has a different parenting style from you or is an enabler, this can lead to stressful times whenever the step child is staying in your home. Ah the complexities of modern relationships.
The problem starts when parents bring different approaches to a child behavioral problem. It may be a big difference: such as one parent tends to be a harsh disciplinarian while the other tends to be more nurturing. Or the differences can be more subtle and/or specific to only certain situations. If parents can't acknowledge their differences and find common ground, then the situation may escalate and become less focused on the child's behavior and more focused on the differences in the parents' beliefs about the issue.
This situation can be underscored in parent/step-parent unions, especially if the biological parent feels guilty that the child doesn't get to grow up in a home with both biological parents and as such, tends to excuse poor child behavior due to a sense of guilt.
The first thing that parents (and step parents) need to recognize is that differences of opinion about how to discipline children is common. Remember that your spouse or partner grew up in a different home with different ways. Although you may be from the same culture and even practice the same religion, growing up in different families means that you grew up in different "tribes" with different customs.
The next thing to acknowledge is that each parent has his or her own relationship with each child in your home and a unique style of relating to that child. This style may or may not be similar to yours.
When there is a difference in opinion, what you don't want is for your differences to become the focus, so that the child is left to behave in the same way that is causing the conflict. Not only can this leave a child feeling unsure about the rules, the child will lose respect and trust in you as parents and may begin to use your differences between you to evade taking responsibility for inappropriate behaviors and poor choices. This is how a good marriage begins to crumble.
One good rule in any dual parenting relationship (whether we're talking natural parents or a natural parent and a step parent) is to make a rule that if one parent disciplines a child when the other parent is not around, the parent who was not around will back up the other parent, regardless of whether or not that was how they would have handled that particular situation.
This teaches a child that his parents support each others' decisions and does not give the child an opportunity to play one parent against another. It closes the door on that situation where you've said no to a child and the child retorts, "I'll just ask mom then. She'll let me do it! " This puts the child in control and pits the parents against each other.
Obviously if your spouse hurts your children emotionally or physically, it makes sense to protect your children. If you are in a situation like this, then speak up or if it is serious, seek professional help. Under no circumstances should you permit an adult to hurt or abuse your children.
When you disagree about parenting and discipline, shift the focus off your child and talk about what each you want your child to learn from the situation. See if you can find something that you agree on and use that to move forward with regard to how best to handle the situation. Although parents may disagree about child disciplinary methods, usually they can agree on what they want their child to learn from a situation and work back from this.
Child behavior isn't always the source of conflicts. For instance, your 13-year old may want to take the bus to the mall to go to the movies with a friend. You may feel that your child is not responsible enough to do something like this, but your spouse may think that this would be a good experience to build competence, independence and confidence. In such a situation, it is important for you to voice your fears. If your partner holds his ground, then attempt a compromise. For instance, you could agree that your child can go to the movies with his friend, but only if you drop him off and your spouse picks him up.
It does no good to discuss a situation when you are upset. Wait until you are calm. For some parents, this may mean leaving the house to take a brisk walk or going for a car ride. Even if your child has done something wrong, you do not have to issue a punishment right away. Your child is not a puppy that needs to be reprimanded immediately. Just look at how our court system works: penalties and punishments are not issued immediately.
If you wait until you and your spouse have calmed down, you will have a bigger perspective and together, you will be able to make a decision about parenting and discipline that helps your child to learn, grow and become a better person which is really what discipline is all about. When discussing the situation with your spouse, be open, listen receptively and focus on what you both want your child to learn.
Finally, remember that when you and your spouse fight over parenting and discipline issues, your child's behavior does not get the focus it requires. Parenting is all about learning to work together as a team to raise children who have strong values, good character and who know how to treat people in their lives with respect and consideration. If you need more help with this, check out Two Parents: One Plan.
If you have a child who is unusually defiant or disrespectful, then you are dealing with something else entirely. In this case, I recommend that you read my review on the Total Transformation.
Finally, remember that the situations that come up are opportunities for your child to learn, but they are also opportunities for you and your spouse to become a real team, united in your efforts to raise a good, loving family comprised of individuals who take responsibility for their actions. Working together through tough issues when they present themselves will solidify your love for one another.
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About the Author: Laura Ramirez is the author of the awarding winning book: Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting and the DVD-series Parenting the Native Way: Raising Children to Live in Balance with the Natural World.