When You And Your Partner Have Different Discipline Styles



“Does your husband have a nickname?” a friend asks me. It’s Girls’ Night Out, and we’ve been laughing about the names we call our significant others.

“Yes, he’s Marshmallow Dave!” I say, and snickers ensue. “Um, no, not because of that! He’s just such a softie with the kids.”

And it’s true. Dave’s tendency has long been to be overly permissive with the kids. I’m the opposite, the one always enforcing discipline. Which makes for some tricky parenting territory to navigate.

It never came as a surprise to me that my husband wasn’t much of a disciplinarian. One of the things I most loved about him from the get-go was how sweet and easygoing he is. The first indication that we didn’t see eye-to-eye about keeping the kids in line happened when we were sleep-training our son, who was two at the time. Max had been sleeping in our bed for a good part of his life, and it was time for him to go. As he’d cry it out in his room, Dave and I would bicker:

He: “We should go get him!”
Me: “No! He needs to learn to sleep on his own!”
He: “But he’s crying!”

Inevitably, Dave would bring him to our bedroom. I was finally only able to pull off the sleep training when Dave went away on a business trip for several days, and I let Max cry it out.

We had another kid, a girl of the super-feisty variety. Dave wasn’t one to give time-outs; I was. Dave wasn’t one to enforce consequences; I was. Dave wasn’t one to withhold anything from her as punishment; I was.

First up, we had to learn not to disagree in front of the kids. Or should I say, I had to learn not to hiss at him in front of the kids because I felt he was undermining the authority I was trying to establish. Our rule: Neither of us could discount what the other had just told the kids while they were standing there. More often than not, I’d put my foot down and Dave would withhold his marshmallow urges and not say a peep.

The other part of the process was helping Dave understand that being firm wasn’t bad for the kids. In fact, just the opposite. Kids need boundaries not just to understand how we expect them to behave in the world but to feel secure and to thrive socially, academically — and every which way. Dave and I regularly talked about this, and while he agreed with me in principal and started putting his foot down more over the years, it doesn’t always happen. Because: Marshmallow Dave. He waivers. He concedes when he knows he shouldn’t. Given what an an amazingly caring, devoted, nurturing father he is, it’s a flaw I’ve accepted. We balance each other out — and do our best not to cancel each other out or send mixed messages to the kids.

I heard my daughter wailing downstairs the other morning as Dave came up to grab the car keys.

“Why is she crying?” I asked.

“She doesn’t want cereal for breakfast, she wants me to go out and get her a bagel,” he said.

“Honey! You can’t reward her wailing with a bagel!” I said. “Please go downstairs and tell her that because she’s crying like that, the only thing she can have for breakfast is cereal. No bagel.”

“But she’s hungry!” said Marshmallow Dave. “She won’t eat!”


“Do you want her to keep having little tantrums or do you want her to learn?” I asked, hoping he would realize I was asking a rhetoric question.

“OK,” he said. And he trudged downstairs and talked with her, and the wailing stopped.

I was so proud of him. He came back upstairs.

Said Dave, “I told her that if she ate cereal, I’d take her out for frozen yogurt later.”



Image courtesy of ThinkStock

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Article Posted 5 years Ago

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