When parents don’t parent the same
Scenario 1: A 12-year-old girl comes home from a friend’s house 30 minutes later than when her dad asked her to be home. She nervously walks in the door and her dad sternly explains that she cannot play the next day because she did not follow the rule to come home on time. When the girls starts to argue about a birthday party the next day, the dad sends her to her room and it isn’t discussed further.
Scenario 2: A 12-year-old boy comes home from a friend’s house 30 minutes later than when his dad asked him to be home. He nervously walks in the door and his dad calmly asks how his friend’s house was, and then scolds him for coming home late. As the dad starts to explain that he cannot play the next day, the boy argues and whines that he has a birthday party he doesn’t want to miss. The dad eventually gives in and the negative behavior is forgotten.
When two people become parents they bring their own set of memories, values, and beliefs about how to discipline and they eventually see that parents don’t parent the same way. Both of the scenarios are realistic as to how a mom might have been parented and how a dad was parented. No family dynamic is exactly the same so there will be differences and it can be surprising when your children start to grow and you discover what type of discipline the other parent uses. Some of the time those differences don’t affect the overall discipline in the home, but sometimes those differences are blaring and will cause continual conflict if left alone. Over time this must be addressed so that both parents are applying the same parenting skills to be on the same page.
The foundation of parenting the same is by first balancing both sets of tolerance levels. Your tolerance is the level at which you will tolerate negative behaviors. A high tolerance level is tolerating more frequent or more extreme negative behaviors and a low tolerance level is addressing or disciplining when negative behaviors are small. Extreme differences in parenting tolerance levels can cause conflict when disciplining children. A common conflict is when the parent with the lower tolerance level gives a consequence for a behavior that the other parent (with the high tolerance level) doesn’t think should be given or believes is too extreme for the behavior. Because one parent doesn’t agree with the severity of the consequence they try to save the child by not enforcing the consequence or arguing with the parent until they give in or become angry. When one parent undermines the other in this way, the child often gets away with the negative behavior unnoticed while the parents are arguing among themselves. If this is a common scenario in your home you need to discuss separately with the other parent what specific behaviors you will and won’t allow, finding a balance toward the lower end of the spectrum.
In addition to differing tolerance levels are the many forms of discipline that a parent was raised with. Some parents turn to spanking or yelling, others give time-outs for all negative behavior, and some parents don’t do anything but acknowledge a behavior. Sometimes we want to parent exactly how our parents did and sometimes we want to do the opposite, but most times it’s a little bit of both. With all these differences, we may be uncomfortable with the way the other parent is disciplining. For example, one parent may be opposed to spanking while the other doesn’t think that talking about negative behaviors will change the behavior. Whether or not you or the other parent are acting in the way you want, you must be intentional about how you want it to be in the future. If you don’t decide together then one parent is usually dominant and the other parent either gives in or feels uncomfortable with what is being done. Or there is constant conflict with the kids caught in the middle.
So with unequal tolerance levels and the varying forms of discipline how can parents get on the same page? Here are a 4 steps to become partners in parenting:
The only way to resolve the differences in parenting styles is to discuss what you both want to change and what you hope to implement. Plan a specific time to do this so you are both prepared with your thoughts and ideas and can come to the best solution for your family. Smarter Parenting often suggests implementing regular family meetings with your entire family. It is also a good idea to have daily or weekly parent meetings as well to review schedules, resolve any conflict, and discuss what is going well or what needs to be changed.
The best way to discipline the same is by using the same parenting skills when praising, teaching, or correcting your child. Then no matter how your child behaves both parents will react the same way and enforce positive and negative consequences the same. It also brings the parents on the same page as they learn together and can help each other in applying the skills. Smarter Parenting has specific lessons to do exactly this. Go to the lesson section on the website to learn together the most effective ways to praise and correct your child. (LINK)
Practice praising the other parent when they respond well to the children. It may seem awkward at first, but it will build their confidence and create positivity in your relationship. And when you believe it is necessary, take the other parent aside and give suggestive feedback for how they could have applied the skills differently to produce a better reaction or to more effectively teach your children. As adults we tend to shy away from praise or feedback to another adult for fear of appearing condescending to the other person or for fear of how they may react to it; however, the best way to become better is through acknowledgment and feedback. Parenting is a continual learning process so use your partner as a resource and strive to become better together.
One of the biggest sources of conflict in child rearing and discipline is when one parent undermines the other by taking away a consequence the other parent gave. When this happens children learn how they can get out of consequences and often lose respect for the authority of the other parent. If you do not like what the other parent did, talk with them alone after the situation where you can together correct or decide how to do it differently the next time.
- Talk openly with the other parent in a formal discussion or regular parent meeting.
- Learn the same parenting skills.
- Give praise and suggestive feedback to each other.
- Don’t undermine the other parent in front of the child!
When parents strive to parent in the same way it creates stability for the child. Your child knows what to expect when they behave. There is less conflict in the home, which will reduce the possibility of your child feeling at fault when you argue over discipline. The right behaviors are reinforced because you have decided together what you will tolerate and how you will respond to positive and negative behaviors. Overall, parental stress is reduced as both parents are parenting in a way they are happy with.