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When One Parent Sabotages the Other

"You mention that it is better to have a weaker discipline strategy from both parents than a stronger strategy from one, but what if one parent will not discipline the child and goes behind your back to replace items you have withdrawn. This parent encourages the child to lie and be deceitful as he practices these traits and encourages the child not to tell Mom. We are close to divorce, but both desire the best for the child, but we see the best very differently. Some of these difficulties are exaggerated by our ages - I am 57 and he is 78; our son is 12."


At one of our recent parenting seminars, one member worried aloud that she and her husband disagreed about how to raise and discipline their 13-year-old son. She pointed out that she and her husband came from different family backgrounds, so the examples they had grown up with were very different. She wondered if they could ever agree about child rearing, and she was concerned that their son was not be receiving consistent rules from both parents. "How can we begin to come to some agreement?" she asked.

Throughout the room, heads nodded. It can be a big problem -- joining two people who have been raised by very different methods and expecting them to be in harmony about how to raise their own children. When people are falling in love and considering marriage and families, they usually don't think to ask, "Are you a passive parent …an authoritarian … a neglectful parent …or assertive?”

One of the biggest sources of marital stress is disagreement about child rearing. And for children, major parental disagreement is a source of mixed messages and confusion that may undermine the attitudes, values, and behaviors parents hope to teach. Whatever the nature of the disagreement, it can have a significant impact on all family members and can lead to an erosion of parental authority, as children learn to play one parent against the other.

If the children are still young, parents have time to negotiate some agreement about the major aspects of child rearing:

1st- Sit down together and list the aspects of child rearing on which you DO agree (e.g., what goals do you have for your child, say by the time he is 15, and what values do you want him to learn?).

2nd- Identify the standards of behavior that you agree are realistic for your child's age.

3rd- List any strategies you both think are important (e.g., you may disagree about punishments, but you may agree that both parents should set an example of respect and honesty; you may agree that it's important to tell him you appreciate it when he does what you ask).

4th- After you've identified points of agreement, begin to list areas of disagreement. Talk openly, calmly and respectfully about what you each believe regarding how your child should be parented -- and where you learned those beliefs.

5th- Identify child-rearing sources to which you can turn, understanding that together, you may need to learn new strategies to replace the old ways that are a source of conflict.

6th- Agree to a regular time to check in with each other about how you're doing together as parents. Give new strategies a chance to take hold and give your child a chance to learn that mom and dad are working together. Do not expect your child's behavior to change immediately, just because you are trying a new mutually agreed upon tactic.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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