No United Front - How Bad?

Filed under: Development/Milestones: Babies, Opinions, Relationships, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Big Kids


Should you and your spouse at least appear to agree? Credit: mynameismarsha, Flickr

How many times have we heard how how important it is for parents to present a united front to the kids? But really: Must parents always agree? Or is it really so bad if one parent is more strict and the other is more lenient about certain issues? Hmm.

To find out the truth about this, I called my friend and Mommy Advisor Rosanne Tobey, director of Calm and Sense Therapy, a counseling service.

Tobey felt pretty strongly about this one. "This is a bad one," Tobey stated. "Presenting a united front is important. You've got to be on the same page when you're parenting."

But what if you don't agree? "Even if you don't agree," Tobey stressed, "you need to appear to agree."

But why?

"Because," Tobey said patiently, "If you often don't agree, the kids will soon figure out they can divide and conquer you. It's confusing if they get one message from one parent and a different message from the other. You end up with children thinking they have one good parent and one bad parent."

So, what if one of you is consistently more strict than the other? Here are Tobey's tips for what to do when you're not on the same page as your partner:

Discuss it away from the kids. "You have to get to a place where you agree, and it has to happen outside of earshot of the kids."

Find some common ground. "Let's say you agree a child committed a crime but you disagree on the penalty. Tell the child you both don't like what she did, and work the penalty out privately so you're on the same page."

What if you both feel really strongly about your positions?

"You have to be grown ups--which means someone will probably have to concede."

Trust your partner. "Be open to the fact that your way is not the only way. Parenting doesn't always work best the way you think it will." You may think a heavy disciplinary approach is best, and then you discover that your children do better when you let them help make decisions. "Being open to other parenting styles allows you to find out."

Side benefit: If you're open to the notion that your spouse might have a good idea, you'll get to common ground faster, and avoid fights. "That's what most parents fight about," confirmed Tobey. "Each parent wants to be right and to have it their way all the time"

Talk about general parenting philosophy with your spouse. "We're all human, and sometimes you or your spouse will do something that will cause the other parent to say, 'Hey, lighten up,' and that's normal," said Tobey. If you talk in advance about certain child behaviors that you both agree are intolerable, then you're set up to support each other.

So, how bad is it to not present a united front? "It's not good," admonished Tobey. "Your child needs to see both parents as respectable authority figures. Ideally, you're parenting as a partnership, and trusting each others' judgment in addition to your own."

Have you had a less-than-perfect parenting moment and you're wondering, "How bad"? Send it to Sabrina at She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Sabrina Weill is the founder of the pink and princess-y gift site: PrincessLovesPink. Many of the Mommy Advisors in this column are the writer's personal or professional friends.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.