When parents disagree about discipline, the underlying issue is often a conflict in parenting styles. Parenting styles develop in a complex process from childhood history to adult knowledge and experience. Because parenting styles are rooted in individual belief systems, polarization and conflict are common when parents' styles differ.
The most common conflict occurs between parenting couples who have authoritarian and indulgent styles. The authoritarian parent is adult-centered and high in control efforts. The indulgent parent is child-centered and low in control efforts.
While these two styles are opposites at their core, they can find common ground. The way to resolve this conflict is for both parents to take one step to the more balanced and healthy authoritative parenting style.
The Authoritarian Parent's Step
The authoritarian parent can move toward authoritativeness by becoming more child-centered. This parent should take time to listen to the child and invite the child's input into family activities and decision making. He or she should seek out knowledge of normal child development to better understand the child's abilities and needs. Finally, this parent should spend more time with the child in mutually pleasurable pastimes, finding ways to enter the child's world and understand the child's point of view.
The Indulgent Parent's Step
The indulgent parent can move toward authoritativeness by becoming more demanding of the child. The indulgent parent should practice saying 'no' to the child. He or she should seek out knowledge of effective child discipline strategies and use them to address misbehavior. Finally, this parent should focus on helping the child build skills of self-control and adult and peer interactions. Teach the child to respect the authority of adults in his world; to understand consequences and control impulses; and, to develop good relationships with peers.
Conflict between authoritarian and indulgent parents will not subside without effort from both parents. It's not so much about compromise as it is about learning from each other. Belief systems about parenting can remain intact while both parents learn new skills. The payoff is a more harmonious family life and a child who learns self-control and a strong sense of self in his environment. That's a win-win-win for your entire family.