In the complex realm of family discipline, stereotypes die hard. Mothers still tend to emphasize the emotional and interpersonal violations of misbehavior; "Do you ever think of how much work it is for me to clean up your mess?" Fathers, meanwhile, tend to highlight the real world implications of misbehavior; "Being a jerk isn't going to make your teacher want to do you any favors at report card time."

The stereotype

But one particular stereotype, the 'wait-til-your-father-gets-home' maneuver, needs to be rethought in light of expert research. It's endured because exasperated moms sometimes feel the need to apply some extra 'muscle' in certain situations. Lurking in this tired phrase are some false messages:

  1. As your mother, I'm not as effective at getting you to behave as your father;
  2. Men's potential to intimidate their children more than women is fundamentally useful to the family value system.
A landmark study of paternal influences on school-age children has found that high levels of paternal control, intrusiveness, and prohibition (good ol' fashioned authoritarian fathering) is associated with more, not less, school problems, less personal initiative, and lower social competence. So be suspicious of a return to old fashioned values. Repression and punishment don't enhance children's self-control. It sure doesn't enhance their self-regard. It just teaches kids not to get caught next time. And if you're using these techniques, there will certainly be a next time.}]

Better advice

  • It benefits kids' self and family regard to have mothers and fathers sharing responsibility for limit setting and follow through, so set it up that way from the beginning.

  • Have periodic adult discussions to review disciplinary decisions, work them out, then announce to kids the left and right hand are tight.

  • Publicly support your spouse's decisions if kids file a grievance. Discuss in private if you feel the need to express another view. Presenting a united front to your children grants you authority, and will prevent your kids from second guessing you.

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