Dear Is This Normal,
My partner and I have two kids together, a 3 year old and a 6 year old. We are on the same page when it comes to parenting our kids in most areas. However, we have very different strategies when it comes to discipline. I take a correct and redirect approach when it comes to disciplining the kids, and use gentle discipline techniques (time outs, quiet time, loss of privileges) when appropriate. My partner, however, doesn’t like to discipline because they don’t want to come off as the ‘bad guy’, and they feel as though I’m too ‘harsh’. So that means I end up always being the bad guy. It’s creating a lot of friction between my partner and I, and the kids are starting to understand that one parent is a lot easier on them than the other. I feel like this will only get worse as they kids get older, unless we somehow start to work together. Help!
Opposing Team Players
Dear Team Player,
Oof, this is a tough one, Player! Parenting is already hard enough without trying to somehow balance two different parenting styles in one household. Sure, there are some areas where having two different parenting perspectives isn’t disruptive, and even some where having different styles can actually be really beneficial. But personally, I would say discipline is most definitely not one of those areas. And I agree with you—if you and your partner don’t team up here (and quickly!), this friction will only get worse and will absolutely continue to affect your kids and how they see each parent.
A part of me understands a bit about where your partner is coming from—no one likes to be the bad guy! Unfortunately, parenting requires a lot of bad guy moments, in the interest of raising happy, healthy, well-adjusted kiddos. No one likes to see their kid unhappy and we REALLY don’t like knowing that we were (in some way) responsible for that unhappiness. But we also can’t just let our kids wild out all over the place and think they can do whatever they want without consequence. Because then they could grow up to become teens and adults who do the same, and…yikes.
I think a good first step here is talking to your partner about why they feel the way they do. In my experience, a lot of how we parent stems from how we were parented, and that can be a lot to unpack. Do they conflate their kids’ approval with how much the kids love them? Are they afraid that disciplining your kids will lead them to not love them as a parent? How was your partner disciplined as a child or teen? Understanding where they’re coming from could give you a lot of insight into this aspect of their parenting, and make it easier to find common ground.
Now, about that united front: it is imperative that the two of you come to some sort of agreement/shared strategy when it comes to disciplining. For your sake, but also for your kids. Because as your kids get older, they will absolutely latch onto this loophole and work it to their advantage. Not only will that put your partner in a precarious position of being the ‘easy’ parent during hard situations, but it will also continue to undermine your authority as the other parent. And that is incredibly confusing for kids, but also? It can be incredibly damaging to be in a stuck-in-the-middle spot between two parents. I highly suggest that while you and your partner work towards a discipline strategy you’re both happy with, that you come up with some emergency plans to put in place immediately.
My first rule would be that no parent is allowed to undermine the other in front of the kids; you guys need to have each other’s backs at all times as far as the kids can see (deeper discussion can happen when the kids aren’t around). I would also make it clear to the kids that you and your partner are working as one unit—so no going behind one’s back to the other when they want a different outcome. Another immediate rule: don’t throw each other under the bus. If one parent makes a decision regarding discipline, it is the other parent’s job to support that decision. You can definitely empathize with your kiddos if they’re upset or sad, but do so without placing the blame on each other. Finally, in order to make things a bit more equitable in the interim while you and your partner are fleshing out your more cohesive discipline strategy, put a rule in place that states all discipline is decided by BOTH of you, so no one parent gets to the good guy, and no one parent is always relegated to bad guy status.
It’s not always easy to combine two different parenting styles, but when it comes to discipline, it really is so important. You can’t always be the bad guy, your partner doesn’t always get to be the good guy, and your children need to know that their parents are a team. I hope some of these strategies work for you as you and your partner move toward building a more united front. It will all be worth it in the long run.
No I in Team,
Is This Normal