As a therapist who works closely with children and families, I frequently receive complaints from one parent about another.

parents“He totally undermines my discipline. I finally got my daughter to accept “no” for an answer. But he just gives in to her tantrums!”

“I’ve been putting him on his belly like you recommended. But my wife always picks him up as soon as he makes the smallest whimper.”

“My husband gives the kids juice and candy whenever they want. He doesn’t know how to say no.”

Many people panic when they feel as if their spouse is not on their side of a parenting issue. A woman may feel as if the man she loves is not coming through for her when she needs him. Or a man may feel that his wife’s criticism of his parenting is a personal attack on him.

It is important to realize that just because your spouse parents differently than you (let’s put aside the words “wrong” and “right” for now), this does not mean that s/he is a bad parent. In fact, opposite natures in parents can be a gift to the children. The overly harsh or overly indulgent tendencies of each parent can balance each other out and prevent children from being too restrained or too unrestrained. In fact, it is very normal for parents to have very different approaches to parenting. And it is very possible to love, appreciate, and even admire your spouse despite those differences.

If you feel as if your spouse is a parent from another planet, there are two keys that will help you work on the problem areas that will inevitably crop up:

  1. Acceptance. If someone is hurting a child in any way, that can never be accepted. The person doing the hurting should be stopped immediately. This can most effectively be accomplished by calling ChildLine to report abuse, or suspected abuse.

In non-abusive situations where you think your spouse has the wrong approach in dealing with a child, acceptance is key. It is important to take a deep breath, count to ten before reacting. Tell yourself that it is unlikely that your spouse’s poor choice will irreversibly damage your child for a lifetime. Tell yourself that you know s/he must have the child’s best at mind, is simply making an immature mistake, or doesn’t know any better. Replace negative, accusing thoughts with more neutral, non-accusatory thoughts.

  • He is a total pushover with the kids! They do whatever they want with him.
  • I know he is soft- hearted and compassionate. He needs to learn to do what’s best for the child in the long run.
  • Why can’t she get the kids to be quiet? She has no control over them.
  • She is having a hard time managing the children’s behavior. She probably is totally overwhelmed.
  1. Communication. Once you have accepted your spouse’s flaws and deficits, you are not doomed to live forever with his or her mistakes. Open, respectful, and constructive communication can accomplish major improvements. One improvement is change: one spouse may be able to change his or her approach.

Here’s an example:

Mary: I know the kids drive you crazy sometimes, but I think when you yell like that there’s a sense that you’ve lost control.

Mike: I know, I feel bad that I lost it today. I really don’t want to be so explosive. I’m not sure how to stop.

Mary: Sometimes when I feel like I’m losing it, I just remove myself from the situation. You can lock yourself in another room until you’ve calmed down.

Mike: If you don’t mind stepping in to take over, I think I’ll do that next time.

Mary: It means so much to me that you’re willing to work on this. It’s really important to me, and to our family as a whole.

Another possible outcome of communication is compromise. That situation would look something like this:

Mary: I know the kids drive you crazy sometimes, but I think when you yell like that there’s a sense that you’ve lost control.

Mike: The truth is that I simply cannot handle them during bed time. They misbehave and fool around. It’s just too much for my temper.

Mary: Well, you know that I’m busy cleaning up from dinner during that time. I need you to give me a hand with the kids.

Mike: Maybe I can clear up in the kitchen if you’ll handle the kids on your own. You’re much calmer with them and they listen better to you, too.

Mary: I think that can work. Maybe once you’re done clearing up you can get the baby in pajamas.

Mike. Sure I can. Thanks so much for working this out together. It means a lot to me that we can problem- solve in a respectful way.