United Parenting: Consistency for the Kids’ Sake

Girl in corner sticking out tongueKids are notorious for separating mom and dad. I am not talking about separation in terms of divorce. I am talking about when a child asks one parent about having ice-cream before dinner, knowing the answer will be ‘no’ from the other parent.

Kids are only looking out for their own interests. This is normal and part of a developmental stage, especially when they are very young. Kids also know that one parent is the “weaker link.” When a child cries, tantrums, pouts, or even acts funny and silly, and one parent gives in to those behaviors, more often than not, that will be the “weaker” parent.

So, what needs to be done?

Parents need to be united. United in discipline, love, and teaching. There may be different styles on how each parent follows through with the foundation that the parents have set for the child, but the main concept is there.

When a child comes to you and asks for a cookie before dinner and the answer is ‘no,’ follow through with it. The child may whine to get you to change your answer; if you think you will soon be changing your mind, get reinforcement for your spouse or partner. The point is to show that the parents are united in response, and the child is unable to breakthrough.

If you are unsure of how to answer, and your partner is unavailable, then tell your child to wait. If your child needs a consequence and you are not sure of what to do and it can wait, then tell your child to wait until your spouse/partner to come home. Sometimes, consequences can wait, especially if you are not sure of how to handle a particular situation. This works a little better when the child is a bit older. If your partner is giving your child a consequence and you walk in on the situation, support the decision at that time. If you did not approve of the consequence or thought it was too harsh, then tell your partner when you are removed from the child. When a child sees his or her parents at odds over a punishment, the child will take advantage of that weakness the next time.

Communication with your spouse/partner helps you and your spouse to stay united. Kids may try anything to get what they want. Stay united, and communicate with your spouse/partner.

© Copyright 2011 by Kelly Sanders, MFT, therapist in Rancho Cucamonga, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Hugh


    September 1st, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    my six year old son always does this.he knows I will not agree to things be asks for so he goes to mommy and convinces her of things and the same gets communicated to me.little guy has tact I must say :)

  • veronica


    September 1st, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    My kids have a knack for being able to play me and my husband against one another. They know that one of us is going to say yes and the other ids going to say no, and they know exactly which strings to pull to get the end results that they wat. How did we end up as these parents who let our own children manipulate us in this way? I always want to present this united front, but it is like the kids get to us first before we even have a chance to confer! I guess that is all part of their master plan to didvide and conquer. . .



    September 1st, 2011 at 8:40 PM

    Its amazing how kids learn to do this instinctively.I mean no one teaches them to do this but they still do.

    Isthere anything that this knack of theirs can benefit in?You know,a habit in childhood can go a log way to become nature later on…

  • Lo-Key


    September 2nd, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    Its difficult to go about being united in disciplining the kids because often the couple itself does not know each other well.I have observed this many times and frankly kids take advantage of this.Mom and dad do not agree upon things,so its my opportunity to do whatever I want!

  • Val Cuthbertson

    Val Cuthbertson

    September 2nd, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    Kids do this so much and I’m sure the parents did it as kids as well themselves. The best way to prevent this is to ask them straight if they have already asked their mother/father. If they say yes, then stick with your spouse’s answer. If they say no, you should already know what your spouse’s response would be to them and give the same answer.

  • Duncan H.

    Duncan H.

    September 2nd, 2011 at 4:26 PM

    I hate it when my kids do this. My wife and I tried to enforce a chain of command with the kids but it didn’t work as we intended it and caused arguments between us and them because the kids wouldn’t stick to it. I really hate having to do such things around the kids but it’s that or put them up for adoption. :P

  • ava


    September 3rd, 2011 at 11:06 AM

    Kids are not stupid. They will find ways to get what they want, and they know that one really good way to accomplish this is to get one parent to agree without the other ever knowing the difference. The really bad thing about this is that not only does it make the kids spoiled rotten, but it can literally pull a marriage apart. It makes the couple feel like they are having to take sides, when really, the only side that they need to be taking is that of each other.

  • judith d.

    judith d.

    September 3rd, 2011 at 8:51 PM

    @Duncan h. — Eh? If the kids wouldn’t stick to it, that’s a problem on your part, matey! What exactly did you spell out to them that the consequences of non-compliance would be? Because whatever it was wasn’t enough to make them care.

    Take charge, man and take away whatever means the most to them if they don’t toe the line until they do. You and your wife both are being too soft.

    You might think it’s all funny now but you won’t in a few years when the police bring them to your door because you’re teaching them that it’s fine to do your own thing. You’re not their buddy, buddy!

  • Donald C.

    Donald C.

    September 4th, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    Parents have to set the discipline rules from the very start and make sure they both discipline equally. You have to agree on what’s appropriate otherwise you look weak and fragmented.

    And never, ever argue about discipline approaches in front of the kids. Save it for when they aren’t around and you both are calmer because emotions run high when you’re mad at the little devils.

  • mikewebster


    September 4th, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    Changed days indeed. My Pop would have whipped us good twice if we asked him for something that Momma had already said no to! Once for disturbing him without a good reason and the second time for not listening to our momma. You only make that mistake once.

  • kirsty rhodes

    kirsty rhodes

    September 4th, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Point 2 is so important it shouldn’t even need said. I remember years ago an old neighbor of mine told me about how his late wife once hit her stepson so hard that he started bleeding. Her husband told her to quit. She said it would be the only way he’d learn. His retort to that was “This is the only way YOU’LL learn” and he immediately called the police.

    Adults should never stand on the sidelines when they see excessive punishment being dished out, spouse or not.

  • Tyrone Undel

    Tyrone Undel

    September 12th, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    As a kid I used to hate the “Go ask your mother/father” line, but now as a parent I see why this line is used. Usually my father would say this to me because he didn’t care either way but knew my mother might and object to his answer. In order to avoid this he would just have my mother make all these decisions.

    In my opinion this isn’t the best way to do this, the way you mention in this article makes much more sense to me. You should always agree with your spouse in front of your children about a decision. When you disagree the child usually realizes that you are weak. Don’t put it past your child to exploit you and your spouses disagreement!

  • Tina


    August 24th, 2014 at 12:06 AM

    Before we had kids I thought I would be the main disciplinary and my husband would be the “weaker” parent as you put it (I would have said fun, easy-going parent). Turns out that is not the case. We both discipline and want the same things for our children, but our styles are very different. I agree that parents need unity and that is harder said than done. It does take practice and to be unified in marriage and as parents. We began on the right track by going to the Love and Logic classes. But I think we missed the point of letting them make mistakes. I feel my husband is a bit of a helicopter parent and uses his “enforceable statements” too often when they could be learning on their own. This may make me look like the weaker parent when really I just want them to figure the little things out that don’t really matter. I want them to get their hands dirty and be toddlers. I guess we are still finding our rhythm and what works for us. parentarizona.com/what-is-parental-debt/

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