Q: My husband and I have a strong marriage, yet we still disagree about discipline. He thinks I'm too easy on the kids, I think he's too hard. How can we find some middle ground?
A: One of the best ways to dislodge your logjam with your husband is to stop talking about how to discipline your kids while you're doing it and decide what to do "in the moment" before the need to discipline actually occurs.
First, discover the "no brainers" you both agree on—things such as wanting your kids to obey your requests, treating you and others with respect, doing their chores on time, and disciplining your kids with a combination of love and limits while avoiding being "squishy" on either side (i.e., only love and no limits or only limits and no loving attitude). You most likely agree on wanting to avoid anger or guilt when disciplining them and to give your kids freedom, choices and then consequences for their choices. Most parents can avoid arguments in the heat of the moment by agreeing ahead of time on these big-picture discipline issues.
Next, establish a specific plan for your discipline principles and for the consequences when they're not followed. For example, "When one of us asks Johnny to turn off the DVD and pick up his toys and he doesn't obey, what will WE do?" Agree beforehand on what you'll do, such as saying, "Sorry, Johnny, bad decision. That means you won't get to watch any DVDs tomorrow." Also include your kids on the expectations and rules and consequences. Then, everyone will be on the same page — you, your husband and your kids.
Instead of arguing over this issue as you've done in the past, try to understand each other's objectives in discipline. Instead of saying, "You're too hard on the kids," or "You're too easy on the kids," ask, "What's important to you about their behavior?" or "What do you want the kids to experience in our discipline?" Chances are, answers such as these will emerge: "I want them to be responsible," or "I want them to know they're loved, and there are real rules as well." Then discuss some ways to accomplish those objectives. Now you've set clear and positive goals. And that makes for a much better conversation.
Finally, talk to each other about where your views on discipline originate. Sometimes, when someone realizes he or she was harshly disciplined by their parents, they promise themselves they'll never do that to their kid. So then they barely do any disciplining because they fear their child will feel what they felt.
You and your husband may simply be parenting in the way you were parented. Or you may be treating your kids as you treat yourselves, either too lenient or too harsh. Parents don't always realize they have issues that may need healing in order to do parenting well. That's why conversations about discipline can help you become more objective, stop acting out personal styles and get past any stumbling blocks from the past. As parents, we have to be good stewards and do some self-observation.
Drs. Cloud and Townsend are counselors and the authors of many books, including Raising Great Kids, Boundaries with Kids,and Mom Factor as well as the hosts of the syndicated national radio program "New Life Live." You can experience the wit, wisdom and understanding of Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend through the Solutions Audio Club. Each month you'll receive four exceptional audio recordings by the doctors, mailed to your home. Their biblical solutions for relationships and life's challenges will help you invest in the future of those you love, so enroll today! For more information or for a complete list of their extensive resources and speaking engagements, call (800) 676-HOPE or visit their Web site at www.cloudtownsend.com.
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