"We Can't Agree on Disciplining Our Kids"

Erin and Jack's constant bickering over how to discipline their son is ruining their marriage. Can a marriage counselor help this couple reconcile their parenting styles? Can this marriage be saved?


Her Turn

“We Can’t Stop Fighting”

“Childcare experts always say it’s important to be on the same ‘parenting page,’” said Erin, 32, a museum curator with three children, Max, 7, Zoe, 2, and Emma, 8 months. “Well, Jack and I aren’t even in the same book! We can’t stop fighting about how to handle Max, our 7-year-old. We bicker constantly, and loudly, in front of all three kids.

“Jack can be so nasty. Here’s an example: The other day Max accidentally closed his bedroom door, barely missing Zoe. He didn’t realize his sister had toddled after him, and she was scared but not hurt. Jack was livid. ‘How could you let Max do that?’ he asked in that condescending tone that makes me see red. Before we knew it, we were on our typical roll: I’m yelling at him. He’s yelling back. The little ones start to cry. Max yells at us to cut it out, and another evening is shot. So instead of looking forward to my husband coming home from work, I find myself getting anxious, wondering what the fight will be about this time.

“Jack calls me a wimp and says I give in too easily to Max. But I don’t believe in lots of rules and punishments. I work full-time, so when I have time with my son, I don’t want every moment to be a discipline session. I think parents should explain to kids why something isn’t appropriate. True, my explanations don’t always work and sometimes I end up yelling at them myself. Still, it’s better than just barking orders. And while I care about good nutrition, I try not to get uptight about it. Right now Max is obsessed with sweets, and abolishing them, as Jack advocates, will only make them more desirable. Besides, when I’m trying to make dinner and bathe the baby, I can’t keep track of how many cookies Max has eaten. Inevitably, just as he is reaching for one, Jack will walk in and yell, ‘Don’t eat that — you’ll ruin your dinner!’

“Jack also can’t stand it when Max pops up from the table instead of sitting quietly, napkin on lap. But, honestly, how many 7-year-olds do?

“It’s the same with neatness. ‘Clean up this mess now,’ he’ll bellow, ‘or no TV for a week!’ I, on the other hand, do not expect every Matchbox car to be in its place. I’ll go on the occasional cleaning binge, but with three kids, I usually have other priorities. Besides, forbidding TV for a week is extreme. Jack also thinks Max should clean up his messes, and again, that’s fine in theory, but it doesn’t work in reality. Last week, for example, Max decided to make a magic potion like Harry Potter would by mixing shampoos in a ‘cauldron’ — our lobster pot — just as I was getting everyone ready to head to the library. I couldn’t halt everything and insist that Max clean it up. We’d never have made it out of the house, especially since Max is a world-class dawdler.



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