Discipline 101: It's not about your kids!
"All we do is argue about how to make our kids behave!" Discipline can be one of the most challenging parts of parenting. There isn't one "right" way to parent. There isn't a "how to succeed in parenting" class and test to pass before we become parents.
The hardest part of all, kids don't come with instruction manuals! What we're left with is figuring it out ourselves as the days go by. The truth is, most of us parent the way our parents did because, well, that's what we know! Our kids just don't listen to us! When I ask about discipline and family rules parents usually give me a long list of what hasn't worked. Underlying all of the things on that list is a complaint about parenting styles. One parent complains about their partner being too firm, the other complains their partner is too lenient. The one thing they both agree on is they are sick and tired of fighting! Usually, when couples argue about discipline it's typically some combination of the following reasons:
Different styles of parenting
Different rules during their own childhoods
Conflicting expectations for behavior
A breakdown in communication between the partners
What's the fighting really about?
While the list above is about the couple's differences, I always bring parents back to the very basics of building a strong family foundation. When there is a conflict between parenting partners it's typically a difference in 2 things: 1. Each parent's vision for their family 2. The values they want to instill and the meaning of each value
When conflicts occur, it is critical to look at what each person is defending. It is very important to understand what each parent had envisioned their family life to be and what values they see as a "must have" in the family. When talking about their family vision, a few of the questions I ask include: 1. How would you describe a "successful family"? What traits does that family have? What habits do they have that make them successful? 2. What did your own (childhood) family do really well? What are some things that happened that made you feel secure and loved? 3. What values (character traits) do you see as the most important? Why?
4. What behaviors reflect the values you find important? For example, you might describe respect as looking someone in the eyes as you speak to them, for your partner that direct, continued eye contact my not be as important. While you both may list "respect" as a top value, the way it's displayed may be completely different. Where do we go from here?
I believe my role as a coach is to build bridges and look for common ground. Think of this as picking out "best practices" from each of your lists and forming a unique list for your own family.
An example: Together you may decide respect is a definite expectation. What does that look like? Does everyone greet each other when they come into the house? Is there a rule about respecting other's privacy? (Get into the details!)
Next steps The above exercise is just the very beginning of what couples can do to overcome their differences and strengthen their parenting partnership. Deeper follow-up topics include communication strategies, blending parenting styles, negotiation as a partnership, setting a firm foundation so family rules make sense. While all of those topics are important, they mean nothing unless a couple is crystal clear on their shared vision and values for their family.
If you and your partner are at odds over even the smallest discipline issues, these steps can help reduce your stress and increase your efforts to parent with a consistent message. For additional help in this process, click here to book a FREE Discovery Call.