When a husband and wife disagree on how to handle discipline and disobedience, is there a path forward that leads to more unity in a young family?

All parents will handle situations differently depending on a host of factors: heredity, temperament, and their past childhood environments and experiences. But when overarching parenting philosophies become too divergent, it can have harmful effects: threatening the marital relationship and causing the kids to become confused, not knowing who to look to for authority. 

“Terribly Torn” writes:

Dear Families of Character,

My husband and I are divided about how to  discipline our son. I am more of the traditional breed, meaning I believe our son (6) must obey the things I tell him to do for his own good and the good of the family. My husband fears that my “forcing” him to do what I tell him to do, whether it’s pick up his socks or stop hitting me in anger will lead to his rebellion. Our chosen method of discipline is time out. But if my son hits me or won’t go to time out when told, then I physically hold him down until he’s ready to obey. My husband calls this child abuse and often comes to “rescue” our son from his mother. This is severely straining our marriage.

I love my husband but I love my son too and don’t want to let him become a disrespectful, violent person (which I fear he will become if his behavior is allowed to go unchecked.)

How can I help my husband see the truth that I’m not abusing, rather doing right by our son, out of love?

I am,
Terribly Torn in Dallas

Dear Friend,

There’s no doubt you love and cherish your spouse and son. You are an intentional parent whose heart desires the best for your marriage and family. Way to go, mama! However, it sounds like those goals feel out of reach at the moment. We’ve all been there! The good news is—together, you and your hubs can establish an approach to parenting that empowers everyone while uplifting your marriage. 

While both of you are individuals who will not always do the same things in responding to problems or disobedience, (that's normal) it's important that you foster unity. It’s not enough to say, This is how I was raised, so that’s what we’re doing! Or, This is what feels right to me. You don’t want to box your husband out of his role as an engaged parent. Both of your opinions must be respected in order to grow in your vocations as parents. 

  • Spend an evening with your spouse alone sharing and being vulnerable with one another about the best things your parents did and the worst things that they did, and how those things affected you. Once you’ve bonded and truly shared, you can team up to devise an approach that honors both perspectives. I’m not speaking of a compromise. Instead, it’s about creating a parenting plan as a team that respects the other.  

  • The key to discipline is that it cannot be accompanied with anger and harsh disapproval. Its express purpose shouldn’t be to fix behavior. Try as we might we can’t “fix” or change our children. Trying can result in rebellion. But we can offer them choices calmly and with love and model good behavior. When kids act out, it’s usually because they don’t have the words to express what they’re feeling. We should always seek to find out what is the source of the acting out. Empathy and compassion are essential to fostering attachment between parent and child. If that bond is nurtured, later on kids will not turn to their teenage peers as their guiding force in life. 

Concerning the time outs and behavioral “holds”—if your husband feels the need to “rescue” your son from these situations, you should take his feelings to heart. His distress will be picked up on by your son, causing more unrest and confusion. Consider trying another approach for a month and commit to it.  

  • Try coming up with a catch phrase response to say when you encounter disobedience or resistance from your son. Devise some responses that you can both say to help steer your son to better behavior. Our resident clinical social worker and counselor, Jordan Langdon suggests the book, “Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.” You could also check out a video from the author here.

No matter what you decide, stay united. Division between married couples has a ripple effect. The best gift you can give your child is a strong marriage! If your son knows you love one another, he will blossom in that love and begin to emulate it. He will want to impress both of you, by being obedient, but it takes time. Parenting is a  marathon, not a race. Pace yourself and keep up the good work!

If you're interested in learning to live out character strength every day in practical ways in your family, check out our signature subscription box experience! Adventure into Character is your ticket to more unity and laughter today and well into the future. Your family will unbox all sorts of fun and inspiration with activities and prompts to grow in character. Each kit rallies the family around a new character strength that will fortify the family to withstand any potholes, or sudden turns on the journey of life. Bonus: it helps cut down on screen time—just in time for summer vacation.

If you have an issue you’d like our help with, drop us a line at If you’re experiencing a problem, chances are thousands of other families are in the same boat. We’re ALL in this parenting boat together! 

Remember to tap into our Thrive Community on Facebook. It’s free and our team’s very own clinical counselor offers helpful tips and encouragement to parents who are adventuring together. 

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