"We Can't Agree on Disciplining Our Kids"

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The Counselor's Turn

Finding a Compromise

"This couple's deep love for each other was evident, but their constant battling over discipline had polarized them," said the counselor. "I had three goals for them: First, they had to learn to resolve the no-win arguments in which they were gridlocked. Second, they needed to understand that neither's approach to discipline was right or wrong. And third, they needed to figure out compromises both could live with. 'You can't achieve any of these goals when your conversations instantly disintegrate into fights,' I told them. 'You need to find ways to reconcile conflicting views before the discussion becomes incendiary.' It's not necessarily bad for kids to see their parents fight -- they can learn important relationship skills if their parents are able to resolve disagreements, make up and move on. But when kids sense their parents are losing control, they get frightened. 'When that starts to happen,' I advised them, 'call a time-out and resume the discussion when you're able to speak calmly.'

"People are often unaware of how much the home in which they grew up affects their parenting style. 'Different family backgrounds often trigger discipline battles,' I explained. 'And when partners become parents, they often discover facets of each other's personalities that are upsetting and disillusioning.' The fact that Erin and Jack became parents soon after marrying compounded the problem -- they had little time to discuss their philosophies of raising a child before having one. The addition of two more children so close in age added yet another layer of stress and fatigue. Soon, both were wondering, 'Who is this person I married? Is this what I signed on for?'

"We spent several sessions tracing the patterns. In Erin's large, boisterous family, for instance, discipline had been lackadaisical. Her mother meant well, but was controlling, making decisions for everyone. As a result Erin lacked confidence in her own choices. Her father's alcoholism, which she intuited, further shook her confidence. Children of alcoholics often subconsciously blame themselves, thinking, if I try harder or behave better, Daddy or Mommy won't drink. Even now, Erin hated to have anyone, including her children, upset with her. While she was blessed to have such a close family, she was too enmeshed with their lives. She allowed herself to be swayed by her mother's child-rearing methods instead of making joint decisions with Jack.

"Jack, by contrast, grew up in a home where his father ruled via criticism and strict proclamation. What Jack didn't recognize was that he was often as judgmental as his father had been and spoke with similar arrogance and anger. Jack appeared confident, but his need to be right and his unwillingness to truly listen to Erin belied his fear that unless he overpowered his wife with his views, he would be overpowered himself.

Continued on page 5:  The Counselor's Turn, continued


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