How Can Two Parents Speak The Same Discipline Language?

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I used to be the bad cop. For a minute or two, I was the one who would stick to my guns and believe it when I said to my kids things like, “No, you may not sit on the counter.” If I say that to my kids now, you can bet that, less than five minutes later, they will be perched up there on that counter, grinning and making a mess of things. I’ve gone soft.

My husband, meanwhile, made the opposite transition. When we started out in this parenting game, his feelings about discipline were largely unformed. His laissez-faire attitude contrasted sharply with my expectation that mom and dad should win every battle. Instead of settling together somewhere in the middle, we have traveled all the way to opposing corners.

So what now? The problem is that I know neither one of us is doing it “right.” We’re both a little bit wrong but I can’t seem to clearly decipher which parts of my way should stick, or the nuggets of truth in his tactics. I do know, however, that we both want our toddlers to grow into respectful, creative, open and independent people, which is a fabulous starting point.

Let’s consider a case study, shall we? When I take our daughter to the grocery store, the highlight of the trip by far is the look on her face when we reach the bakery counter. This particular store stocks a mini bakery case on the counter with little round rich, buttery sugar cookies that are to be consumed, free of charge, by its loyal customers. Well, my little lady is perhaps the most loyal of all and joyfully but politely eats two of these freebies each time we go. It’s just part of our routine. Is it the most healthful of options? Absolutely not. But I have a feeling that our sub-30 pound three-year-old can handle it. And like I said, these two cookies make her so damn happy!

Which is why I completely understood her grievance when she returned from a trip to the store with my husband and whispered to me, “Daddy said I couldn’t have another cookie. Just one.” I assured her that he must not know about our two-cookies-at-the-grocery-store thing, and I actually believed it, too. Until his response came back; a stern, “Not before lunch.” Oh. He did know. But he’s laying down the law. He’s the bad cop.

I’d be lying if I tried to say that most of my decisions aren’t motivated by a desire to keep the peace. I like to avoid meltdowns, no matter how brief they may be, and I’m especially keen on avoiding meltdowns in the middle of the night. So I let our kids sit on the counter and eat two cookies at a time and I sleep in our daughter’s bed when she wakes up crying out for me (which is every night). When I start to question my choices, I think about how cool our kids are. They are not whiny brats or entitled toddlers. They generally listen when I tell them, “No,” I just don’t do it very often. Strangers and grandparents alike comment on how well-behaved they are in the toy store or how nice it is to hear a little person say “please” and “thank you.” Perhaps I’m being short-sighted. I honestly don’t know.

Again, the real question is this: how do my husband and I arrive on the same page? The obvious answer seems to be open and frequent communication about the topic of discipline, but we’ve tried that. It’s actually pushing us further back into our respective corners. Do we research the topic and read the same two or three books to select a method that speaks to both of us? Or is it time to consult a professional – someone who can get all Super Nanny on our asses?

I don’t have the answer, but I’m leaning toward the professional. There’s a parenting course that friends of ours took and still swear by four or five years into its utilization. If we find our way there, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. Until then, my husband and I will keep on choosing our battles and backing each other up as much as we can. And our children will become more and more familiar with the good cop/bad cop game, which, it seems, is what nature intended.

(Photo: iStockphoto)