As a couples therapist specializing in parenting issues, I often see parents who disagree about how to raise their children. Most often, these disagreements revolve around how they should discipline their children. What is too much, too little, or too harsh? One parent might feel that the child is taking advantage of them, while the other feels that more discipline results in too many conflicts, and isn’t necessary. They can start to feel as though they are undermining one another. Then, the issue is lost, and it quickly becomes a power struggle just between them, which can bleed into so many other parts of a relationship. Each person begins to take a stronger stand on all kinds of topics just to prove that they are right . When everything becomes about being right, and not losing the upper hand , the relationship is in trouble.
If parents can follow a few steps, they will avoid falling into the power struggle trap of who knows best when it comes to discipline.
First of all, I believe that having two perspectives when parenting is a huge advantage! Look at it as a positive. When embroiled in the emotions of how to handle a temper tantrum, or when your child is demanding that you do something right now, and they hate you, having another adult person who is less emotionally triggered in that moment, can take a lot of pressure off, if we allow it. When we can’t see that we are so affected by our own upbringing, that we are being unreasonable, it helps to have another opinion. We just have to see it as a benefit, not a hindrance. Most decisions can wait until we’ve allowed time to get another perspective, and made a more conscious choice. One of my favorite strategies is to tell a child demanding an answer to a request, “if you want an answer immediately it is no, if you can wait, the answer is maybe”. Then, you can take your time, talk to your partner, and come to a decision that you are happy with.
Secondly, as parents, we can make more conscious choices together, if we take the time to have some serious adult conversations about values. What are the most important values that you want your children to adopt? Think about what kind of person you want your child to be when he/she leaves the “nest”. What kind of father/mother, husband/partner? Take a moment and write them down. This is something you should discuss as a family. Decide as parents, how you want to teach these values. Have a plan. Your firm limits can be tied to your values. Developmentally, these are goals to work toward.
Finally, consider the importance of modeling. Modeling ourselves for our children as a couple that has conflicts at times, and can work out our differences and come to a resolution, is probably the most important value you can pass on. Start to teach children at a young age to problem solve. Show them the steps of identifying the problem, considering possible solutions, and carrying through with a plan. Then, reviewing how it went. They can do this with you, and eventually, solve their own problems. After all, the goal as a parent is to raise independent, responsible adults, like us!