We have two primary school children but my husband and I cannot agree on issues of discipline. He is too heavy-handed and bullying for my liking, and he says I am too soft. It results in the children playing us off against each other, and they are not getting one consistent message. How can we alter our belief systems to agree on one simple path?
Neither of you has the balance right. You are both reacting emotionally.
Like most people you both have strongly held views on child raising. He is clearly offended by the children’s behaviour that he probably sees as insolent. And that gets him angry. You empathise with your children’s pain when their father comes down on them. To protect them, you take their side against their father.
Each of you needs to take responsibility for your emotional reactions. The more powerful the reaction, the greater the need to address its source. Our child rearing attitudes come from our own upbringing. You identify with the hurt child. Your husband identifies with the offended parent. There will be no compromise as long as each of you holds your current positions. You both think you are right, but you are both avoiding the real problem. Any strong emotional reaction is a message that you have your own childhood issues to address.
The vicarious hurt you feel for the children presents an opportunity to heal your past. Find a time and place to relax, without interruptions. Recollect your childhood, and remember the times when you felt such hurt. Explore the situation from different points of view, the child’s and the parent’s. Sense the emotions of all parties, and seek to understand what they represent. This process, repeated whenever you react emotionally, gives you the new information needed to shift your beliefs. You will see that the children need to be firmly corrected, but by someone who understands their perspective.
Your husband needs to do the same when he reacts emotionally to any aberrant action of the children. If he can explore his feelings with an open and receptive mind, he will probably find that one of his parents was a bully. He toughened up to cope with the hurt and in the process disowned his vulnerability. Right now, he doesn’t remember what it was like to be young and feel threatened. Before he can identify with his own children, he needs to re-experience his own vulnerability as a child. This can be quite a painful process but eminently worthwhile. He will feel more at peace within himself and more complete after he reconnects. He will still be able to correct the children firmly but with a calmer, more compassionate attitude.
Once the two of you have addressed your emotional baggage, you can sit down together and work out what you believe is acceptable behaviour in your children, and what are the best methods of correction. Also agree on a way to manage any future disagreement on discipline. Presenting a united front at the time is best but with an opportunity for discussion and readjustment after the event.
Your children will be surprised at the change in discipline when you and your husband support each other but they will soon feel much happier and more secure.