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I work at home (although me being independent is almost a euphemism for being unemployed). My wife is the primary breadwinner in our household. My wife is also currently under a lot of stress, as her job responsibilities have increased in the lasts months, we have faced some unexpected payments, her mother died after a long deteriorating disease, etc.

We also have some disagreements in how to upbring our children.

I rather have the kids take responsibility of their acts (v.g. if you don't make your bed you have to sleep in an undone bed; if you don't to your homework you will get a bad grade) while, on the other hand, I am pretty relaxed on enforcing behavior. Probably too much relaxed.

My wife, on the other hand, prefers to watch them more tightly, giving orders and expecting orders to be followed, or else. She rather prevents undesired consequences (v.g. living in a mess, getting bad grades, etc.) so if the kid does not follows an order, he or she will be punished but the chore will be made by someone else.

This leads to some conflicts, and while I attempt not to reverse her orders or decisions in-front of the kids, she is a little less reserved in criticizing my parenting, and pointing that bad behavior from our kids (particularly from the older boy, 8) is induced by my bad example. She also accuses my relaxing parenting as just laziness.

While she might be right at some points, I do believe I am not always wrong. When I try to point out some disagreement she usually feels attacked. I do believe she should calm down, and having a more relaxed attitude that would even help her with her own stress.

But my main concern is how my kids are getting these mixed messages. Too controlled by their mother, too relaxed by their father, and not having to deal with direct consequences of their behavior other than being grounded or having TV and gaming privileges revoked.

Am I right in this last concern? How can I prevent giving these mixed messages? How can I (we) mitigate the effects or how would I prepare to the consequences?


I had already read both the question and answers of How to deal with the child when both the parents are not on the same page? before posting this question; and I find that the situation is not the same, the requested advice is not the same, and the answers, while useful, are not the ones I need.

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Is there a question you'd like the forum to address? –  Valkyrie Nov 6 '13 at 12:04
    
Okay. I thought I did it in the last paragraph but it is too implicit. I'll edit it to make it more clear. –  Carlos Eugenio Thompson Pinzón Nov 6 '13 at 12:38
    
    
It still feels like a dupe - can you describe what is different? –  Rory Alsop Nov 7 '13 at 16:57
1  
The nuances do make it somewhat different, but I think over-all, the question is pretty subjective and requires expert advice on how to communicate with each-other to begin with. Perhaps a visit with a marriage counselor is the best advice that can be offered. –  balanced mama Nov 10 '13 at 20:15

2 Answers 2

1) You need to discuss with her about the differing styles. This needs to be done in a supportive, collaborative way so she doesn't feel attacked. Find out the minimums she needs to happen, and see if you can achieve those or not.

2) You need to stop arguing in front of children. That needs a firm commitment from both adults to discuss that stuff out of the way of the children.

3) You don't mention the age of the children. But 8 years old is too young to learn from experience - a child doesn't have the same cognitive link between things they do and things that happen, especially when those events are separated over time. Children need, and like, clear firm boundaries. That allows them to relax and play and work without worrying about what's going to happen. Structure is great for children. It's great for the adults too. Building habits when the child is young helps them learn and grow.

Start implementing some rules. Play is fun. Messy play is great. But we have a clean-up after play, and the children have to help. With some skill this is incorporated into the play and doesn't need any "discipline" to enforce, but it might need techniques like "no more play until we tiny up". Have a set time for school work. No school work that day becomes a time to revise old work, or practice things they found tricky, or to ask questions about stuff.

4) Try to persuade your wife that parenting isn't about enforcing rules, and discipline isn't about applying punishments for things not done. Punishment should be kept for times when the child does something that they know is wrong but they do anyway. Explanation is for when they do something wrong without knowing it.

Apologies for the grumpy tone of this post.

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It seems to me you understand the general problem (you and your wife can't reconcile two different discipline styles), and that it may cause a problem for your children (but you don't know what form that may take), and the solution (stop giving mixed messages); but you're saying because of your wife's unreasonableness, you're giving up on the solution, and want to move on to mitigating the bad effects of the problem on your children.

While I think that it's very forward-looking of you to try to do this, I agree with Dan Beale: you and your wife can find a solution, you just need a little help to figure out how. You feel that since you're willing to admit you are too relaxed about making your kids follow the rules you have set, she should respond by admitting it's sometimes okay to let some things slide a bit. She will not, and this rigidity is preventing you from making the changes you know you need to make. You want her to compromise, too.

Except, the way things are now, she probably can't. Here's why I think that (and I admit I am making a fair number of assumptions here), and a suggestion on how to change this.

You say she is the main breadwinner, and her responsibilities have increased in the last months. I am guessing she comes home at the end of a stressful day at work longing to spend some quality time with her kids. I am also guessing she has what she perceives a very short time in which to interact with them before they must go to bed. If she then finds out that you have slacked off the discipline during the day, and things aren't done that must be done (e.g., homework), or things were done that have yet to be cleaned up, and she must be the "heavy" for this little bit of time she has with them, and if it happens every single night, she would have to be spitting mad.

At this point it is not a difference in parenting styles to her; it is her missing out on her share of the joy of being a mother because of your perceived laziness. By the time she has fixed everything (from her point of view) and got them into bed, she probably is in no mood to concede that you might be right about anything, even that the sun will come up tomorrow. (And advising someone to calm down is the best known way to make them even wilder, by the way.) She probably can't see any of the good things you have accomplished with them, either.

My suggestion: start by giving her the gift of quality time with the kids. The next time she comes home, the house should be clean, the homework done, the supper ready, whatever. Bring out some family game you can play, and all of you have fun. After the kids are in bed you can talk. Dan Beale has an excellent what/why list; I want to make three additional points:

First, any rule you are not enforcing is not a rule, but a suggestion. (You may decide that making the beds could fall into this category. Teaching a child to choose to have a clean room can be an art and a joy on its own.)

Second, for things you do decide should be rules, natural consequences -- having the kids take the responsibility of their acts -- is a good start. For some things it is even enough. However, the natural consequence of "not brushing your teeth at night" should not be "You'll get cavities!" A young child may not care about cavities, but it is still your responsiblity as a parent to take care of their teeth. The more effective "natural consequence" would be, "We don't have time to read a second book because I have to help you brush them."

Third, "natural" consequences don't always work. While "Next time I'd better do my homework!" is the lesson some children would learn from getting a bad grade, for others the lesson would be, "I got a bad grade but the world didn't end; failure is okay, too." And that's a lesson you only want them to learn after you've forced them to learn how sweet -- and achievable -- success can be, by dint of hard work and persistence.

So please don't jump yet to how to mitigate the effects of the mixed messages. The answer would certainly include telling them their parents are doing the best they can but they're not perfect, or finding a third person to be the steady rock they need; but why cede your parental authority any sooner than you have to? Even if you have to go to counseling, the problem of how to get your wife to listen to you without feeling attacked (so that the two of you can come up with a single parenting strategy) might be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your own hard work and persistence.

Good luck!

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