And does it matter? Over at the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, a “Doormat Dad” wrote an essay about how he’s, well, a doormat. He’d rather not fight with his toddler. He’d rather let the spirited tyke get his own way—within reason, DD says—for a host of reasons both practical and psychological. But what about his wife?
Lots of commenters have pointed out that DD might end up doing his child a disservice in the long run, avoiding short-term feuds but inflicting long-term harm. I think the real problem is his annoyed spouse, who makes a cameo in this essay as someone who actually wants to set some limits.
Just based on gut instinct, I think the most important thing for parents is to present a united front when it comes to discipline. It’s not only because consistency is important for kids, but also because eventually they’ll sense tension between their parents. This doesn’t take a psychiatry degree: I’m guessing that if one parent is more lenient, that parent will become the favorite and end up getting played off against the stricter parent, who will in turn become resentful. And, most of all, kids don’t want to see their parents fight, which is what happens when resentment boils over.
Presenting a united front is easier said than done. Sometimes I get incredibly annoyed when Brian lets Andy fall asleep on his lap on the couch, instead of putting him to bed in his crib. It teaches Andy that bedtime involves watching TV, and it cuts into any sort of adult time that we might have. Usually, though, I just keep quiet because it’ll cause a fight. Brian, on the other hand, thinks I give Andy too many squeezers—those expensive little fruit puree pouches that are way more convenient than actually, you know, making lunch.
But overall, I think we agree about bigger-picture discipline. Still, who knows? The tough thing about parenting is that most of it happens in the moment. It’s not something you can discuss before you get married, over a bottle of wine. “So, honey, let’s say our hypothetical child refuses to get out of the bathtub … how would you handle it? And where should we go on our honeymoon?” No, these split-second decisions are made on instinct, on the fly, and you just have to hope for the best.
So I sympathize with DD and his Resentful Wife to an extent. Neither one knew exactly what lay ahead. You can be in agreement that you want children but have absolutely no idea how you’ll actually deal with them until the moment comes when Doormat Junior throws himself on the floor at the grocery store and yowls like a rabid cheetah for more candy bars.
Ultimately, DD's kid might be just fine with a slightly permissive parent. He probably won't grow up to rob banks or upend racks of hosiery at Target. DD's marriage, however, might not be just fine—and that’s something that will have long-term ramifications.
Do you and your spouse agree on discipline? How do you meet in the middle? Andy’s too young for us to argue over his boundaries right now—our main item of contention, besides the puree debate, is whether or not he should be a dolphin for Halloween—but I’m sure we’ll cross that bridge eventually.
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