Husband & Wife Articles


Parenting for Peace

Tips to avoid a house divided

By Gabriel Somarriba

Although Jesus was not talking specifically about family life when he said “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25), his wisdom can be applied to how a husband and wife must be united in disciplining their children. If they’re not on the same page on this important topic, there will be little peace in the home and spouses may find themselves involved in constant strife.

In a well-ordered home, there should be no easy parent vs. strict parent. Making this a reality will take some planning, discussion and hard work on the part of both parents. But effort invested in consistent discipline early on will pay off over time in better behaved kids.

There are many reasons why a mom or dad may become the easy or the strict parent: daily fatigue, personality preferences, family background, desire to be popular or “win” the love of your children. Consequently, parents will not always be on the same page unless they deliberately discuss doing so. From my own experience as a psychotherapist, I find that parents work best when they meet in the middle, where the stricter parent learns to lighten up and the easier parent learns to set limits. Here are some suggestions to make this parental compromise smoother:

Discussions on child discipline should be frequent and occur away from the child. The best time to have these discussions are usually at night when the little ones are asleep. I also recommend reading parenting books like Russell Barkley’s Your Defiant Child and The Dr. James Dobson Parenting Collection. Both are filled with practical wisdom and provide a solid foundation in essential parenting principles. Having a common text can also provide for a more thorough discussion, and parents can tweak the authors’ suggestions to fit their family’s needs. For the most part, parenting principles will not change too often. The implementation of those principles, however, will change as the child ages and hopefully matures.

Parents should never undermine each other’s authority in front of the children. Children should see mom and dad as a united front. When a child comes up to dad and asks, “Can I sleep over at Sarah’s Friday night?” – dad should respond, “I’ll talk with your mother about this.” Moms should respond in the same way because it gives 1) a quick response to the child’s request, 2) teaches the child patience and 3) allows parents time to consult and keep their united front. There are certainly going to be situations where spouses disagree on a parenting principle. The disagreeing spouse, however, should wait until the child is gone before voicing the objections. This is when the process of parenting is more important than the content of parenting.

Other adults should respect your disciplinary guidelines. From the frequent parenting discussions should emerge a married couples’ parenting initiative: agreed-upon standards of expected behaviors and consequences when those standards aren’t met. When couples become comfortable with their initiative, they should share their expectations with their child’s caregivers. If those caregivers are unwilling or unable to comply with your parenting initiative, then those caregivers may be disqualified from watching your children, who need to learn that their parents’ rules apply everywhere.

When other adults undermine the rules, this can cause confusion in the child and weaken their perception of their parents as authority figures – and with it the ability to mature and learn self-control. I once counseled a family where a grandparent repeatedly gave treats to children that were being “grounded.” Resentment can escalate in such circumstances. Not only is the babysitting adult not respecting the parents’ authority, but the parents themselves often lack the fortitude to stop the adult when it’s a close relative. Yet if other adults don’t follow your rules, they should not be permitted to watch your children. It is better to hire a babysitter who complies with your expectations than deal with adults who undermine your authority. After all, parenting is difficult enough without dealing with a house divided.

Gabriel Somarriba is a psychotherapist currently living in northern Texas with his wife and their two children.