This Common Parenting Fight Could Ruin Your Marriage. Here's How To Stop It
Too much candy. Going to bed too late. Giving in to the tantrum at Whole Foods. Too much screen time. Sound familiar? You and most of the parents on the block are having arguments about how to discipline your children. Not seeing eye-to-eye on when to give in, say yes, say no, stay up, go down are among the most common parenting fights around.
All too often, one parent complains about having to be the disciplinarian. They feel like they are often the ones saying things like, "stop, no, and not now" all too often while they view their spouse as being too permissive. This eventually wears on a marriage as their roles get established and the kids become keenly aware of who is more likely to give them want they want.
What couples don’t always realize is that our own childhoods, parenting styles, and current levels of stress strongly influence how we parent. It is not uncommon to have one parent who is authoritative and another who is authoritarian. So when it’s Saturday night and your 9-year-old wants to stay up late, the authoritative parent might explain why it’s important to stick to the schedule and the importance of sleep yet offer them 10 more minutes before they have to go to bed, while the authoritarian parent might just firmly refuse to consider it and tell them to get to bed.
The two parents then turn around and start arguing about the way they handled the situation. Accusations of being a pushover or being too strict begin, and the cycle repeats itself every few days. If your marriage is in this place right now or you see it heading down the wrong parenting path, you need to stop it in its tracks. Just like we tell kids, take a time-out. Consider these strategies for a reset on how you and your spouse can break the cycle of this all-too-common parenting fight:
1. Back your spouse up.
Even if you don’t agree with their decision, back them up in front of your kids and talk about it in private later. This will show a unified front for the kids, reduce arguments, and allow some space to talk about why they made that decision.
2. Pick and choose your battles.
And I mean the battles with your spouse. You are raising your children with another parent; not every situation is worth you holding firm on. So decide when you are really passionate about something and when you can let your position go.
When parents inherently have different styles of discipline, they have a hard time listening to their spouse or articulating their own decisions. Set aside time when both parents are calm to talk about boundaries, setting limits, and consequences. You will be amazed at what you learn about why your spouse feels a certain way and what drives their thinking.
4. Empathize with your child.
The times when you back up your spouse’s decision yet you don’t totally agree with it are opportunities for you to reflect to your child that you can see how sad or mad they are and that you understand. You never have to disparage the other parent; you can just express your support. By having a plan in place for how to connect with your child, you will be less resentful of your spouse’s position because instead of avoiding the situation (making it clear you are not in agreement), you stay in relationship with your child, which will ultimately make the situation easier to handle for everyone.
At the end of the day, it's important to remember that partnering to raise your kids together is a challenging, rewarding job. Just as you might approach any other partnership being proactive, keeping the lines of communication open and compromising are some of the keys to ending the fighting around how to handle the common argument of how to discipline your children and protect your marriage.
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Dr. Sheryl Ziegler has dedicated her entire career to working with children and families. Affectionately known as "Dr. Z" by many of her young clients, she received her doctorate in counseling psychology from University of Northern Colorado and a master's in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany. She is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Colorado and a member of the Colorado Association for Play Therapy and the American Psychological Association. She is a registered play therapist and an active board member and committee chair for Mount Saint Vincent’s Home for Children.
The author of Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process, she is the founder and managing director of the Child and Family Therapy Center, a thriving private practice in Denver where she and her team have helped thousands of families over the past decade. She is a Mental Health Contributor and Expert on CNN, Fox Denver, and 9News and has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Real Simple, NPR and The Today Show.