Mom and Dad Have the Same Discipline Approach: Is This a Problem?

When a husband and wife discipline their children the same way, is there a need for a more balanced approach? I've heard that one of the ways male-female differences crop up in marriage and parenting is in sex-distinct approaches to child discipline: fathers supposedly emphasize justice, fairness, and duty (based on rules), while mothers are more likely to stress sympathy, grace, care, and help (based on relationships). On this basis, it's been suggested that a balance between mom's approach and dad's is ideal for the child. I can see how this might work in some families, but not my own: my spouse and I both tend to reflect those qualities that are usually attributed exclusively to females. Should we be concerned?

Interesting dilemma. Perhaps this will surprise you, but we don’t think you need to be overly concerned about this. Don’t misunderstand: we have no intention of refuting everything the experts have discovered about sex distinctions and the importance of their influence in everyday family life. On the contrary, we put great stock in the Bible’s assertion that God made mankind male and female, and we’re convinced that a basic understanding of the practical implications of this truth can help eliminate a lot of conflict in the home. At the same time, we believe that allowances have to be made for individual differences.

When it comes to a question like yours, a great deal depends upon the temperament of your child. If his personality is such that he has a tendency to come down hard on himself – if he worries about pleasing you and beats himself up when he doesn’t make the grade-then you don’t have to be as aware of this classic distinction between the male and female approaches to discipline. In a sense, your kid already has a built-in “dad” in his own mind. As a result, he needs more of the encouragement and reassurance that usually typify a mother’s style of parenting. In fact, he should probably be allowed to fail once in a while. We all have to learn how to live with our imperfections.

If, on the other hand, your child isn’t quite so self-regulating, you and your spouse may need to come up with another plan. If he requires a level of direction and guidance that the two of you are too laid-back to provide, it might be a good idea to adopt a more formal and intentional approach. Sit down together and talk about your expectations as parents. Come up with a list of rules that might be helpful for your child. Then devise a plan for enforcing those rules. It’s really not so important that Dad be the hard-liner and Mom the soft-touch. The key is to achieve a healthy balance. This can be accomplished by working together to come up with a discipline plan that includes both structure and grace.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of our staff, don’t hesitate to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department for a free consultation.


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