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Parents Are Not On The Same Page With Parenting Strategies

Q: Well we just joined your program so we haven't even read all the way through the information, but the question I have is how do you convince your spouse to try this program? The reason I ask is his patience are at the end. We have a 14 year old that has ADHD, ODD, is bi-polar and has separation anxiety disorder. He is quite a challenge and there are days when we feel like there is NO hope. He is failing 3 of his required classes in school also? Just wanting to know how to get my spouse on the same page and to help him have some patience!

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A: When mom and dad are not on the same page with their parenting strategies, several negative outcomes result:

1. One parent is forced into playing the role of the "bad guy" (this is probably you mom).

2. The child is always able to play one parent against the other (e.g., if he gets a "no" from the more assertive parent, he will go to the indulgent parent to get a "yes").

3. The child is always able to convince the indulgent parent that the more assertive parent is "mistreating" him.

4. Due to the above outcomes, resentment builds in the more assertive parent, thus creating tension between husband and wife.

Thus, it will be important for you and your husband to sit down together and come up with a united plan. A weaker plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one. When husband and wife do not develop a united front, it is often the kiss of failure (i.e., the child continues to suffer emotional and behavioral problems).

It is not unusual for parents to have different approaches to discipline. You are influenced by different personalities, different gender-related perspectives, and different experiences as children. It is important to understand the roots of the differences and to try to find some acceptable middle ground. For example mothers spend much more time interacting with children. This contributes to a more practical approach to parenting; find what works and go with it. Mothers are also the parenting "experts" and fathers feel very vulnerable when sharing this responsibility. They are likely to be criticized for either not doing enough or doing it wrong. This sometimes causes fathers to be rigid in their approach. Rigidity is often there for mothers as well because of the sense of urgency; too much to do, not enough time to get it done.

These parenting-style differences contribute to one of the primary issues between mothers and fathers: polarization. In a healthy marriage, husbands and wives are accepting of each other and communicate frequently enough about their differences so that over time they "converge", i.e., grow closer. In more conflicted relationships, the couple "diverges" over time. In other words, they don't simply become stuck in a position but, instead, exaggerate that position in response to the other spouse. Thus, a more lenient parent becomes even more so in response to perceiving the other parent as too strict. Of course, then the strict parent becomes more so in response to the increased leniency. And so it goes. Throw into the pot, children who learn to play off these differences to get what they want, and you have a recipe for turmoil.

So what do you do? Do not criticize or change the other parent's discipline in front of the child, nor undermine that discipline when the other parent isn't around. It is okay to acknowledge a difference of opinion, call a time-out, go off to discuss it, and come back with a joint solution. You are modeling one of the important lessons for children when parents can have a disagreement and come back with a solution.

Your problem, like many other parents, is that you have not settled your different views on discipline and shouldn't be doing it via a specific situation where the child gets put in the middle. You need to make time to discuss and understand each other's perspective about discipline, how it is affected by your personal experiences and your gender roles, and how you can take advantage of the differences by having a place in the process for each parent.

Here's to a better home environment,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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