Do you find that you and your spouse are often opposing each other when it comes to dealing with your kids? In many homes, one parent becomes the “fun” parent where the other is labeled the “strict” parent.
Maybe in your home, Dad is everyone’s buddy, and Mom is the one who is always correcting or coming down hard. Or perhaps Mom is more lenient about curfew or Dad’s more likely to give money out when asked.
This is also seen when it comes to youth sports. Dad gets impatient with a child’s progress or effort, while Mom just wants the athlete to have fun. Or maybe it’s the other way around in your home.
Kids who grow up in two-parent households figure out which parent to turn when they want something.
My daughter did this in high school. She approached me first.
“Mom, my friend’s dog had puppies; they are sooooo cute. Can we take one?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea; you will be going off to college soon and then who’s going to take care of her?” Says the mom who is not a huge dog-lover.
Obviously, that was not what she wanted to hear, so she went to dad with the same request, not telling him that she’d already asked me.
His answer? “As long as you take care of him, I don’t see why not.” Says the man who loves dogs and didn’t bother to ask what Mom had said.
In that situation, I was the “strict” parent and I lost the argument. We got the dog, my daughter went off to college, and Tilly is still with us 10 years later.
What about your home? Are you considered the “mean” or “nice” parent?
What’s really happening in this situation? The bottom line with the strict v. fun parenting is that mom and dad are not on the same page in their parenting and when that happens, kids know how to get what they want. They go to the parent that they know will give them what they want.
On top of that, inconsistencies send mixed signals to kids when they misbehave. That results in confusion and insecure feelings for children.
The best approach to raising healthy, well-balanced, secure kids is to parent on the same page. However, that’s easier said than done. Here are some suggestions for making it work in your family:
It starts with the parents sitting down and talking about their vision of what they are trying to achieve as a parent, what kind of adults they want their children to be, and how youth sports fit into the whole equation.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. Take 15-30 minutes to talk about what your core values are as a family and what character traits you’d like to see in your kids. This exercise will be the foundation of your family, and you can refer to it often to be sure you are all on the same page.
Once you both agree on the bigger picture, you can set boundaries for your kids that will not be compromised, no matter what parent is approached. Mom and Dad should agree on that ahead of time.
So, if your child comes and begs to quit their sport, and you’ve both agreed ahead of time what your rule is about that, then it doesn’t matter who your child talks to, the answer will still be the same.
You’ve established the core values and set the boundaries. Now it’s time to trust each other. When a child comes with a request to one parent, that parent should ask, “Did you ask Mom (or Dad)?” If they say yes, then trust that parent’s decision and go along with what they say.
If you don’t agree with their decision…
When it’s apparent that the parents are not in agreement about a request from their child or about discipline, it’s time to call a family meeting. Tell your kids that Mom and Dad need to discuss this and will get back to you with a final answer.
Make your “meeting” civil and private without yelling. Come to an agreement and return to your child with a united front.
If they see that you are going to strive for always being in agreement on things, they will realize that they can’t pit their parents against each other and manipulate the situation.
If you think your child is lying about asking the other parent, tell them you must check with Mom or Dad first. If you struggle to trust your child’s word, this may be something that you will have to do on a regular basis.
Besides confusing your kids, this parenting style can put a wedge between Mom and Dad and negatively affect a marriage. Don’t let your kids do that to you.
Take the time to put forth a united front. I know it takes time and effort. You must be on the alert against manipulations from those smart little humans in your house, but the end result is better for your family.
Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more atrcfamilies.com.