Our 12-year-old son is a very strong character and my husband and I are arguing over how to discipline him. My son behaves badly, my husband shouts at him and then I get upset. I think my husband is too harsh and he thinks I’m too soft. We aren’t able to find a compromise and in the meantime our son’s behaviour is getting worse. Please help as this is causing serious damage to our relationship.
Well, you both seem to be assuming that you’re in the right and this is where the difficulty is originating. So let’s peel back the layers and really begin from a point you both probably agree on; you both love your son and you want the best for him.
The difficulty with arguing about parenting is that it actually takes your eye off the real issue. What is causing your son to behave in the way he is? It could be this question that needs further investigation.
You don’t mention whether you have other children, so I don’t have enough information to decide whether his behaviour is unusual within the family. Only you can decide that. If this is the case, then I would advise further investigation by a trained professional and also a meeting with his school to establish whether his poor behaviour at home is spilling into his time at school.
In the meantime, I would suggest that you discuss things with your husband away from the audience of your son. Arguing in front of children is never advised as it is destabilising for the child and can trigger an emotional upset (something that may be contributing to his current behaviour pattern). Added to this, sometimes, when children see their behaviour is causing tension between parents, they can play one off against the other in order to gain what they want.
The aim of your discussion should be to come up with a framework of boundaries for your son that you both agree on. Then a course of action that both of you can implement when those boundaries are crossed.
At the moment you are both being reactive parents. By this I mean, you are simply reacting to each situation as it arises and this is disintegrating because you don’t agree.
Instead, be proactive. Have a plan that involves both rewards for good behaviour and penalties for crossing the line. Make sure you both sit down with your son in a relaxed and informal way, explain this clearly to him, presenting a united front, and then most importantly stick to it together.
Consistency of word and action is the key to improving his behaviour and alleviating the pressure it is putting on your relationship with your husband.
You seem to suggest that you are the softer parent and that your husband is more likely to get upset and become angry. Neither of these methods is currently working, so in order to achieve positive results, you have to try a new approach.
It’s important to keep love for your son at the centre of this and remember that clear boundaries are an expression of this.