Conquering ... Differing Attitudes About Discipline
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Conquering ... Differing Attitudes About Discipline

Therapist Alan Gonsher offers advice for couples who disagree on how to discipline their child.

Many couples are shocked at how easily their marriage can be pulled apart when baby makes three. But the truth is, it's often difficult to make a smooth transition from being partners to being parents. Disagreeing on discipline is a common trouble spot, and this power struggle takes a toll on your marriage and your children.

Alan Gonsher, a marital and family counselor in Omaha, Nebraska and the director of the family counseling service Kids, Inc., offers this advice:

Give up some of the control.

Many dads lament that their wives expect them to do 50 percent of the work involved in raising a child, but still expect to have 100 percent of the control. As much as they want their husbands to take charge, many women don't like it when he has a different way of handling a situation -- or worse, undermines what she's already said or done. In order to discipline consistently, you need to establish a shared balance of power.

Learn to respect different parenting styles.

Be willing to acknowledge that even if your husband's ideas are different than yours, they're still valid. Your way of doing something isn't the only way it can be done.

Look to each other for backup.

Instead of criticizing your spouse, learn to say: "I'm really struggling with how to enforce Sean's bedtime," for example. By asking for your spouse's input, you can draw him into the parenting process. Together, you can come up with a bedtime strategy you're both comfortable with.

Share the reasoning behind your rules.

If you explain that you don't want your child eating an ice-cream sundae at four o'clock because then she won't eat dinner, your spouse may think twice before indulging her request. Then again, you may be able to compromise: Instead of a banana split, would one scoop be so bad?

Spell out what you want.

Clear communication is important when any problem crops up in marriage, but especially when it comes to parenting. You have to tell your spouse specifically, "This is what I need from you," and then explain why. Many husbands are genuinely unaware of why something is so critical to their wives.

Acknowledge that you may approach discipline from opposing perspectives.

Mothers, especially those who stay at home with their kids, tend to be more pragmatic, says Gonsher. They know what works and they intend to follow it. And since they feel more responsible, mothers may be more concerned about how other people -- relatives, friends, school personnel -- view their child's behavior. Fathers, more immune to the monitoring of other people, usually take a more idealistic approach to discipline, one that often seems to fly in the face of a mother's needs. To help your child -- and your marriage -- you have to balance the differing approaches before you become so polarized that communication breaks down completely.

Take a breather.

For both men and women, having time alone -- away from each other and without the demands of childcare -- is a vital way to nourish a marriage. We don't usually think of taking time alone as a positive step in solidifying a marriage, but allowing each partner to carve out this much-needed break is essential.

Save some TLC for your marriage.

After spending so much time tending to your child's needs, it may seem impossible to find the time or energy to nurture your relationship with your partner. But keep in mind that you have to work hard on your relationship to be good parents. Set aside a few hours a week to participate in activities together, and take time to enjoy each other's company.