By Deborah Godfrey

When two people get married and decide to have children, they rarely talk about the specifics of how they plan to raise these children.  Most people have a “de facto” attitude that says, “My parents raised me x, y or z way and I turned out just fine and I’ll raise my kids that same way”.  While the wonderful person they married has the same idea and attitude, but that parent was raised with a, b and c parenting.  So the real problems begin when these two parents have a two-year old and their parenting styles begin to clash. When spouses disagree about parenting issues, what usually happens is that one parent tends to be more strict and the other parent tends to be more lenient. The strict parent gets angry when the lenient parent allows too much leeway.  The lenient parent gets upset when the strict parent is too restrictive.  So the strict parent gets stricter and the lenient parents gets more permissive until the parents are battling all the time over how to discipline.  The children have a field day of misbehavior in this dynamic, learning to play one parent against the other and running amuck. The relationship between the parents is more important, that is, how the two parents work together to raise the children, needs to be higher priority than the parenting skills of either parent.

While it would be great if parents could have conversations about the specific details of child-rearing, specifically how to handle discipline and behavior issues, most parents don’t have a context for this discussion until they are actually raising their own children.  One of the pieces of advice I would give couples contemplating children would be to have many, “What would we do in this situation?” discussions.  Observing other parents and their children and talking about how you would each prefer to handle the situation can give you a great deal of information about how your partner plans to parent your future children.  For those of us already married, we can use this idea to gain more insight about our partner. In a situation where discussing your child becomes a battle, try looking at another parents issue with a child and discuss together how that parent could do things differently and what each of you would do in the situation.  It is easier to know what someone else should do, so make sure to bring the discussion back to yourselves and see how you can apply that advice in the challenges you are facing with your children.  For example, I had been having a difficult time know where to set boundaries with my 17 year old daughter.  I wasn’t certain about how much involvement my husband, her step-dad, wanted or needed to have in the often heated discussions she and I had been having. A friend of ours was having similar, yet even more extreme issues with his son, and his wife, the step-mom, and my husband parent similarly. I asked my husband what he thought the step-mom’s role was, how much involvement she should have in the situation, and what she should do.  His answers were very interesting, not what I had expected, and guided my decision about how much I could and should involve my husband in the issues between my daughter and I.

Once a couple has identified that they are undermining each other’s parenting, and are willing to work on it, there one main action that can bring the two of you back on track.  If you have created the dynamic where one of you has become the strict one and the other the more lenient one, you may hate this advice, but it works.  In fact, it’s the only way it can work to bring the two of you back on the same parenting team. Here it is:  The strict parent gets to be the parenting leader.  The lenient parent has to follow the lead of the strict parent in discipline situations**.  You cannot do it in the reverse!  If you follow this advice, what will happen is that the two of you will begin to move closer together.  When the strict parent is supported, then he or she can stop over-compensating for the leniency of the other.  The strict parent becomes more flexible and generous in parenting.  When the lenient parent sees that the children are not suffering, and in fact are benefitting from the more firm rules and structure of the strict parent, the lenient parent can learn to be more firm in his or her parenting and come closer to being on the team with the strict parent.  Now the two of you both become  kind and firm parents, each support each other, feeling confident the other is disciplining the children with the best of intentions, actions and results. You can have beneficial discussions on what to do with the children, and each of you feel that you have someone on your side when the parenting gets tough. Doesn’t that sound much better?

The children of a couple with a loving supportive relationship, and that back each other up as parents, but have marginal parenting skills will be better off than a couple that is at war but knows all the latest and greatest parenting tools and skills.  That relationship is setting the example for how the entire family should be and as the role model and leader, it has more influence that just about any other dynamic in the family. So, if your relationship has taken a back seat to the kids, maybe it’s time to schedule that date night again, spend more time at the beginning and end of each day connecting as a couple, and if necessary, get into some couples counseling.  Those things can benefit your children much more than reading a parenting book or taking a parenting class.  And do read the book and take the class –after you have re-committed to keeping your relationship on track!

**If the strict parent is abusive, please seek the help of a hotline, counselor or therapist, do not follow this advice

Deborah has been teaching parenting classes and workshops for 20+ years. She is passionate about parenting, relationships and children.

Do you need better attendance at your parent education programs? I split my time between So. California and Louisville, KY. If you are interested in parenting classes & workshops in a 3 hour radius of either, there are no travel fees. Please contact me for topics & rates. I love to travel & have an 8-week proposal for parenting workshops, intensive classes & instructor training in your area of the world. Please email me for details.

32 Comments

  1. Kiwimummy Says Reply

    Thank you so much for this post. My husband and I are in that exact situation at the moment. He is the strict one and I am overcompensating. I will try what you say and hopefully we will get back onto the same page.

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    • Tiffany Says

      Thank you so much for that post and also the post about a messy room.. both was very helpful. I believe when you tried everything else is time to try a new way. So thank you so much for taken the time to help us be better parents

  3. Chandall Says Reply

    What about when one parent is permissive 95% of the time, and 5% of the time extremely strict? Which has meant that the other parent has not had the choice between strict or permissive, but deals with each situation with her kids on a day by day basis, knowing the unpredictability of the outbursts of the other parent, that are infrequent but have a dramatic impact, could come at any time? So other parent (me) tries to discipline in different ways, (using point systems, rewarrd charts, time outs & time-ins), but because I am the only one trying ti follow something consistently, I feel undermined all the time, because treats are given at all times of the day regardless of how things are going, treats are now actually not even treats, they have become expected, & I have felt entirely no control over the situation. I also just learned something that shocked me, making me feel even more ineffectual and undermined as a parent: I got upset when my 5 year old hit my 2 year old, & implemented a rule my husband & I had agreed upon that if we fount out that he was indeed hitting his little brother, we would not be able to have his handheald game for the entire day. My husband & I agreed on this, but I learned (through our new set up of a motion activated recording sensor, none of us was used to it, I think one of us wants to see it again either) when going through & deleting motion videos (dog jumping on the couch! 🙂 unfortunately learned in a recording that my husband told my 5 year old son that “Mommy made the decision to take his game away, she’s still mad at you, so you better do something to get back on her good side.” Then he told our son he was sorry, & kissed him. He didn’t mention anything about hitting his little brother in the face (totally defenseless, strapped in his high chair, but regardless!!!) being wrong, did not mention that he thought our son had done anything wrong, & then went on to tell him I couldn’t “handle” hearing our 2 year old scream, & cry, & went on to tell him because I have my period.I was shocked, dismayed, utterfly “dumb”founded. (Really feel dumb for not knowing, but never considered it would happen.) He undermined me, blamed my being upset about my son’s hitting on my being irrational because of my period, kissed him, essentially causing a rift between us as parents. I am always the one who tries to calm my husband down when he blows his fuse, screams like crazy, & scares the children so much trhat they are crying, & that no matter what they had done in the beginning is out the window because the reaction from their Dad inadequately compares to incident, so I am trying to save them from the scary screaming, out of place, & over the top. But I try to implement consistent rules, & every single day, I find it is again somehing I have no control over. I come down at 6:30 am tto my kids havng ice cream & sprinkles, it’s not even a treat, it’s expected. I’m at a loss, I have no suport system in place, & feel nothing I ever do will evre make a difference. It is so hard to even feel like anything I do matters, to be honest, it is becoming depressing, I feel overwhelmed by it, and like a HUGE failure. If I had family or friends or money, things surely would be different, but I feel at a loss. I have no support system. Is there a free support line, or something maybe anyone may recommend? I’d love any gentlr suggestions. (Gentle, please, I know this is hard for my kids to go through the confusion, & I am trying so hard on my own to figure out how to make it work out best for everyone, well truly their best interest is my first, MAIN concern, i am trying, even if it sounds like I’m doing a bad job, failing, please be gentle.) Thanks.

    • Lisa Says

      I don’t have any words of wisdom but I just want to say you are not alone. You totally described my husband, even down to blaming them getting in trouble for bad behavior on my hormones. He also says things like, “I don’t know why she’s mad, just do whatever she says so she stops.” Even if I am trying to enforce a rule HE made. He gives back toys and electronics after I’ve taken them away and tells them to hide things from me. As far as the suddenly explosive part, my husband is bipolar. It would be something to check out if your husband would be willing. Just please know that this is not you. No one can parent effectively while being constantly undermined. I’m so sorry you are going through this.

    • M Says

      I’m in this situation now and it has grown to my 4 year old having no respect for me at all. He laughs in my face when he tells her not to listen to me, that I’m just running my mouth, nevermind that she just smacked my face or spit at me or threw toys at our rabbit. I feel like everything is escalating beyond control.

  4. Katie Bode Says Reply

    I think that any disagreement of parenting issues between spouses that leads to an argument or conflict between spouses should be done behind closed doors to your children. Healthy disagreements are a good thing as long as the spouses are able to work out some form of resolution for the issue. After both parents have given some ground and worked out the issue and agreed upon some type of solution that both spouses can live with, they should present the parenting solution that both have agreed upon to the child or children together and as a united front. It is not good for children to have one parent telling them one thing and the other parent telling them something else. This can lead to the children feeling the need to choose sides and that is something you never want your child to have to do. This is why it is so important that parents should try and have any arguments or disagreements about the parenting of their children in a place that the children cannot see or hear them. The only thing the children need to see and hear is one thing from both parents.

  5. Denise Says Reply

    Our marriage has been ruined because my husband is so lenient with our children. He just sits there and says nothing if our adult children are rude, swear, throw things at me or in the past have physically hurt me. This has been going on for 10 years and he just keeps apologizing but doesn’t change his behavior. The strange thing is he would never do any of the things that we allows our children to do.

    • Scott Says

      I haven’t a clue how your husbands lack of a parental spine effects how your children treat/interact/respect you!? It just seems to me you have to build and demand respect from your kids, you. My brother and I grew up single parent (mother) and so mom was mom and dad in a way. We had no doubts that she loved us with everything she was but we also knew if we did not fall in line there would be hell to pay! Good cop bad cop literally all in one person, she was a police detective for 10 years. She loved us and gave us respect and she demanded back nothing less.

  6. Megan Says Reply

    I don’t think it always has to be the lenient parent who compromises their parenting style. I’m more lenient than my partner, but I am conscientious about my choices. I insist on certain rules, but I feel there are battles I choose to not make a priority. My partner who works out of the home, while I work in the home, chooses to fight (sometimes quite literally) most battles.

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  8. Anonymous Says Reply

    Thanks for your article. My husband and I don’t work together and often argue and yell in front of the kids about how he talks, shouts and disciplines our kids. I feel that his reactions towards little things ends up snowballing into a huge argument and leads us not talking for days. I know how damaging this is for my 2 girls (15,8) and don’t know how else to handle the situation, as talking about it just leads to another argument.
    My smaller daughter is always doing things to anger him and his starting to or already dislike her. I feel that she’s still little and he feels that she must grow up. She does look for a lot of attention and possibly because she’s seeking something. Just an example of what occurred today. While shopping for groceries, my younger daughter stood onto the end of the trolly. He asked her to get off and she didn’t, he the. Shook the trolly and she pretended to be hurt. Naturally me been the mother, concerned about her asked why did you have to do that and his reply was she’s not hurt, she’s just pretending as usual. This lead to an argument and he stormed out the grocery store. Worst was on the way home, he makes comments about her getting her own way and how I don’t side with him and always her. This lead to a bigger argument and yelling, with my kids feeling very upset and crying. I don’t know how to fix this or where to go from here. I’m just so tired.

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      Unfortunately, parenting disagreements can completely erode the good feelings and affection of spouses toward one another. You say you know how damaging this is to your daughters and I agree. Priority #1 is to get on the same page with your husband. My 15-week Positive Parenting Teleclass is a great forum for this. Not only do I help you get on the same page by giving you a much great scope of parenting options, but I help the 2 of you to figure out how to best achieve that when you are working against each other.

      It’s great you are looking for answers now. Eventually, it will be just the 2 of you again and you want to be madly in love with him, not resentful!

  9. brooke Says Reply

    What do you do when 1 parent is TOO strict (my husband) & too stubborn to give in or compromise at all. My teenage kids are miserable & he treats them like they are toddlers. For instance my freshman daughter doesn’t have a cellphone yet. My junior daughter does & my husband complains all the time that she has no need for a cellphone except when she is driving. My husband goes thru their rooms & throws clothes away he doesn’t like. For instance, I took the girls shopping for short. I told the sales lady that I needed shorts that the girls could wear to school & that the school was strict about the length. The girls tried on the shorts & they looked very nice on them & plenty long. weeks later the girls went to wear their shorts & noticed they were gone. My husband had went thru their drawers & threw them away. I asked him to get them & we would take them into his parents & ask them if they thought they were appropriate or take to his cousin (who is somewhat strict with their kids) & see what they thought……he said he didn’t care what they thought & was going to parent how he wanted.
    This has caused some major stress in our marriage. These are just a few of the disagreements we have. We tried couselling however, as soon as the couselor somewhat put my husband on the spot, he refused to go back. Now we are at a point where he works all the time & our marriage I feel is coming to an end……

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      Brooke,
      It’s such a bummer that your conflicts in parenting are ruining your marriage and relationships with your girls. I could certainly coach you (and you’re husband if he’s willing) and see if there is any possibility of getting on the same page together. If the 2 of you took my 15-week Teleclass together, you would have a format from which to discuss how you parent, what your kids are learning, and make choices to go forward together. I am a STRONG advocate that the relationship between the couple is more important than your actual parenting techniques. Listen to my 4-minute Pep Talk on Couples and Parenting. Since I am not a counselor, sometimes it works for the spouse to learn from me because I will be coaching specifically on parenting options and not judging his techniques or digging into his childhood. Use me. I am here for you. -Debbie

  10. brenda stevens Says Reply

    MY HUSBAND AND I DISAGREE ON HOW TO DISCIPLINE OUR 5 YR OLD GRANDAUGHTER. WHEN I TELL HER TO STOP DOING SOMETHING ANNOYING OR UNNECESSARY OR DANGEROUS, HE ALWAYS UNDERMINES ME AND ASK ME WHY CAN’T SHE OR WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? OF COURSE SHE IS USING THIS TO GET OR DO WHATEVER SHE WANTS. IF SHE DOESN’T GET HER WAY, SHE YELLS ” PAWPAW” AND HE COMES RUNNING. IF I RAISE MY VOICE TO HER, WHEN SHE WILL NOT BEHAVE AFTER NUMEROUS ATTEMPTS TO GET HER TO STOP, HE RUNS IN AND STARTS YELLING AT ME! IT IS A CONSTANT BATTLE WHEN SHE VISITS US. NO MATTER WHAT I SAY, HE SAYS THE OPPOSITE. HER MOM AND DAD CAN’T GET HER TO MIND THEM FOR SEVERAL DAYS AFTER SHE HAS BEEN AROUND HIM AND ARE TALKING ABOUT NOT LETTING HER COME OVER. I LOVE MY GRANDAUGHTER AND THIS HURTS ME TO THE CORE. I HAVE TRIED TO TALK TO HIM NUMEROUS TIMES AND HE SAYS I AM OVERREACTING TO EVERYTHING. THEN HE STARTS TELLING ME . PLEASE GIVE ME SOME ADVICE OR DIRECT ME TO A BOOK ABOUT MY SITUATION. I AM TIRED OF BEING LOOKED AT AS THE BAD GUY BECAUSE I TRY TO GET HER TO ACT RIGHT.

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      Brenda,

      I’m so sorry for your frustration. I think you realize this is a marriage counseling issue between you and your husband and not really a parenting issue. If your husband could realize the mistakes he is making and ask for helping in (grand)parenting better/differently, then I could help with coaching. But he would need to be open before you or me or anyone could teach him a different approach. Perhaps losing access to his grand daughter will give him that motivation. Please feel free to call me if you would like to set up some coaching 805-648-6846. In the meantime, perhaps you can get your husband to listen to a recording of my talk about power struggles and other ways to handle them. He may be more open after listening to this.

      I feel for ya! I would not be able to stand it if I couldn’t see my grandbaby!!!!

      Hugs to you,
      Debbie

  11. Dawn Says Reply

    Hello. So my fiance and I have four kids. A boy and a girl from his previous marriage and a boy and a girl together. For quite some time now, we have been having a lot of issues with the oldest. She is not quite a teenager yet. They spend 1 week at our home and 1 week with their mom and her boyrfriend (which is always on and off). The daughter has been going to school claiming that I am mean and she is scared of me etc, when I’m not sure why. I am a strict parent as where their dad is more lenient. It has gotten worse the older she gets and it’s getting to the point where she is almost happy it seems when him and I are not happy together because that means I’m not there to have some of the attention. We fight more now because we are having social services coming to see us because she has been saying many things to her school and councellor, which is absurd. I feel like I’m loosing my family and losing the love of my life, and he says that his kids come first and I need to find a way to get her to like me…. I disagree and am kind of heartbroken that he doesn’t understand why I feel so terrible or why I am do sensitive to these things. Please help!! We have gone to one therapist that was a terrible choice for our family. It’s gotten to the point as of tonight that he doesn’t want to look at me and I may be sleeping on the couch. Open to anything.

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      Dawn,

      This is so sad! without some help it does sound like your potential blended family will not make it together. I can hear that you are doing your best to provide support and discipline to the kids and your fiance is doing his best to keep the kids and the ex happy. Unfortunately, by not working together, you both are providing a “field day” of misbehavior possibilities for the kids. As you read in my article, couples can usually come together by having the less strict parent follow the more strict parent’s lead.

      Every blended family is different. I would need to know more details about all of you to properly guide you. Sometimes when I coach parents (couples) in blended situations, I will suggest more team work. In other situations, I will coach the step parent to take a back seat and leave the discipline to the bio parent. And the reason is to protect you from exactly what is happening to you right now…getting blamed. In all cases, I will guide you through specifically handling the misbehavior situations when they occur with concrete words and actions and get both of you on board with the plan.

      If he is open to coaching, you can contact me and I can set up coaching calls with the two of you. Or I can help you navigate this by yourself.

      I wish you the best,
      Debbie
      805-648-6846

  12. Monique Weston Says Reply

    My “partner” emailed this to me… He is new to our family… going on 2 years with us. He has zero parenting experience, but a lot of opinions and expectations about how to discipline children. My daughter is 6… she is not accustomed to being yelled at or manhandled by an angry male. She is not accustomed to a parent/guardian withholding affection bc they are still mad about something that happened an hour ago.
    His behaviour has led me to strip him of most of his disciplinary authority over my child. He may not spank, or physically handle her at all bc he broke our trust when he slapped her at 5 yrs old for spitting. Now the result is he feels the frustration of having no real means of recourse when addressing my childs behaviour… Ive left him with time out, send her to bed, or defer the issue to me. He may also withhold or give rewards, treats, liberties… but I have noticed he tends to use even that as a means of antagonizing my child rather than for positive reinforcement. He fancies himself the “strict” parent and feels I swoop in and undermine his authority…. but as the biological parent when I see my child not following directions… I am unable to address that issue immediately when there is an even bigger threat of a full grown angry adult shouting, red in the face, and trying to pry something out of my childs hand or trying to physically force her to move…. pull her, pick her up… he chooses to engage in physical contact which isnt necessary… and to me is over the top… and usually the reason I have to postpone immediately addressing my childs bad behaviour bc now I have to de-escalate a situation, make sure my kid is ok…. and THEN find out what happened, why, and discipline her. I also often find the conflict occured bc he refuses to have a dialogue with a child. If she insits that she needs something that he thinks she doesnt need… he will say no and expect her to go away. If she is persistent in asking… he will get upset. If she takes matters into her own hands, he will get upset… but rarely will he ever inquire further to find out the reason behind why she asked… and usually the reasons are very innocent… maybe a little misguided… and def something an adult mind would have found a simple satisfactory compromise for, if only they invested time in understanding the child. So no. I will not let this wannabe strict parent take any sort of parenting lead when it comes to disciplining my daughter…. pfffft

  13. Jessica Says Reply

    When my husband and I are having a conversation our kids come and interrupt. They are 3 and 4 years old. I usually see what they want then go back to the conversation. My husband thinks I should tell them to wait and not interrupt our conversation. This has caused many fights and I’m wondering how to handle this situation. Thanks.

    • Scott Says

      Kids are notorious for this. Mine were perfectly good… until I get on the telephone or start having a conversation with another adult. My upbringing taught me that it is extremely rude to boldly interrupt adults who are speaking or on the phone unless its a true emergency. There is a polite way to do it if need be. So it took my wife and I first to get on the same page about how we both will handle it. Then apply it consistently until it finally stuck. The kids will decide if they should approach and if they do they will hold until the appropriate time to say something or more than likely wait until we ask them, yes? Its not always perfect either so its not worth melting down when the rules revert back from time to time, they are kids.

  14. Applemalt Says Reply

    My husband is on the verge of leaving our family because I have not shown a united front to our son for some time. This is my action plan in case anyone is interested and I would also welcome some feedback from Deborah!

    My son is experiencing internal conflict because of the lack of congruency between me and my husband. he has been more disciplined with our 4 years old son for some time now. And although I have not been so bad by ‘normal’ standards, the conflict within our son exists as Hubby and I are not fully aligned to our family style.

    My solution – I am closely observing my son and in ym mind making it all about him…because I have made parenting about me sadly!

    I am being very strict with him and i have told him that this is not to punish him, that he has done nothing wrong and that he may not like me but this is what i have to do to make positive changes within our tribe. I also told him that I do not want to be so strict on him but that this is what i must do in order to protect and guide him. that this is my duty.

    This morning I told him all this and then proceeded to be disciplined a lot more then ever before. I am watching for the shift within him to where he is not feeling that internal conflict.

    I am not being angry towards my son, but because as a family we practice internal martial arts it does look quite strict. The way i see it is that because of my lack of consistency I have created this wall and i need now to crank it up…more then even my hubby so that I can equalise this situation within our family.

    The longer I have done nothing the more strict I need to be in order to counter balance what was created in the first place. Although my son is still young it takes time to change what has manifested.

    I hope so much that I can enable this change now within my son and fast and that my hubby will choose to stay. I understand that it is only natural for people to lose heart eventually and not much can be done about this natural progression as the one you love lets go. I am very sad right now but determined to make this change.

    Deborah i really like what you wrote and I believe in your stratedgy. I feel like what you wrote is a like a map and this has helped me have faith in the ‘map’ that I have just recently started implementing. I often have thought that things [people] take time to change, but I want to see change happen fast naturally now within my son…simply due to me finally being consistent not because I am pressuring my son to change…this si not what I am doing with him.

    I am happy to write out what I am attempting with my son in case that helps others find their own way in turning around family dynamics. Just let me know.

  15. Sherrylee Says Reply

    When was this article written? I am in a parenting class and my teacher asked us to pic an article…this one was the best. It’s informant and I agree with what your saying.

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  17. Jon Says Reply

    Great post! I have found it is sometimes hard for one to recognize their conflict mode while in the midst of a conflict especially when it comes to parenting. If we all spent more time beforehand figuring out our options I think it would make for a more smooth ride when raising children!

  18. Dominate Says Reply

    So basically the strict parent gets thier own way? This doesn’t seem right. My husband is being far to strict to the point where it’s knocked my sons self confidence. I can’t stand by and let him do this. I think your theory might work in certain situations, but when you have an arrogant no it all husband like mine it doesn’t because he’ll simply just turn around and say ‘told you so’ regardless of the negative consequences this would have on the child. If you give an inch he takes a mile.

  19. Anne Says Reply

    My 14 yr old daughter is in a relationship her step dad and I don’t agree with. I handled the situation by taking privilege away. He said for me to handle it. But he doesn’t wanna let it go. He keeps nagging her about it. He also thinks whooping her will make her dump this boy. I’m so stressed about the situation. I don’t want to lose my daughter.

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  22. Ron Says Reply

    I have 2 daughters and my wife ALWAYS points out how I would treat the other differently if it was her getting in trouble… this happens EVERYDAY. And she does it right in front of them so they know there is something to point out. My older daughter is starting to mention the same thing every time now… “if it was her doing it she this wouldn’t be an issue”…. Im about to go crazy on her.

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