Mom and Dad Disagree About Child Discipline

How can my wife and I come to an agreement about child discipline? I've tried to teach my son a strong sense of discipline, but my wife often disagrees with my approach and methods. She says I'm "too hard on the boy." As you can imagine, this can sometimes become a sore spot in our marriage. How can I fulfill what I believe to be my obligations as a father while still honoring my wife and respecting her perspective?

This would be an interesting and important question if for no other reason than that it demonstrates how the intrinsic differences between men and women show up in almost every area of life. Every individual is unique, of course, but fathers and mothers do tend to display two distinct styles of parenting – the male and the female. This can sometimes lead to conflicts and disagreements between husband and wife, as in your situation. But on the whole it’s a good thing. As a matter of fact, it’s part of God’s plan for building healthy checks and balances into His design for the family.

It’s significant that these differences find expression even in an age of freestyle gender-bending and the proliferation of “non-traditional” families. A national newspaper recently published an article profiling an experimental parenting co-op consisting of four homosexual adults: two lesbians, their sperm-donor friend, and his gay partner. Author Glenn Stanton comments in his article “Why Dads Matter” (The Plough Quarterly, Winter 2015):

The foursome had one child and were expecting another. The interviewing journalist asked them whether, given their unique parenting arrangement, they ever had conflicts on how to raise the three-year-old child. The sperm-donor father spoke up, saying he believed the biological mother had a tendency to pamper the little boy too much. “When he falls down,” he explained, “she wants to rush over and make sure he is okay. I know he will be fine.” He wanted his boy to learn to trust in his own ability to solve his own problems – a crucial part of growing up. Like most dads, he was not as inclined as mom to provide an immediate answer, preferring to hold back and let the child figure it out.

As Stanton observes, this dad is living proof that a distinctive fathering nature still exists “regardless of any attempt to transcend seemingly old-fashioned male and female roles.”

As this anecdote illustrates, mothers and fathers tend to approach the challenges of child-rearing differently. Generally speaking, men are more black¬-and-white and rule-oriented in the way they handle discipline. More often than not, they adopt the modus operandi of a policeman in dealing with misbehavior. Mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to take extenuating circumstances into consideration and adapt their correctional measures to the situation at hand – to say, for instance, “Johnny’s over-tired tonight, so we can overlook his crankiness this time around.” Moms have a tendency to coddle and protect their youngsters. They see the rest of the world in terms of their children. Dads, by way of contrast, see their children in the context of the world and try to prepare them to face the challenges of real life. Like the father in the newspaper article mentioned above, they’re more inclined to let a child fail or fall down in hopes that he’ll learn something useful from the experience.

The key to keeping the peace between Mom and Dad is to recognize these differences for what they are and find a way to blend and balance them for the good of the whole household. As we’ve already indicated, this is exactly how God intended the system to work. It’s as if He has built the principles of law and grace into the very fabric and structure of family life. Fathers uphold the absolute standard of right and wrong. Mothers offer forgiveness and mercy. Both are right and necessary, because both reflect crucial aspects of God’s nature. At the same time, both can lead to negative excesses if each isn’t tempered by the other. There’s a time for Mom to let her child suffer the consequences of bad behavior no matter how much it hurts. There’s also a time for Dad to “give the kid a break” no matter how unjust it may seem. That’s why God’s original plan for the family included two parents, one representative of each sex. With that in mind, we recommend that mothers and fathers work together, consult with one another, respect their differences, and do everything they can to fashion a balanced approach to child discipline that includes elements of both the male and female style.

Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists available to provide you with sound advice and practical assistance over the phone. If you’d like to discuss your situation with one of them, call us for a free consultation.


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