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Parenting: Developing a Unified Front

No two parents take exactly the same approach to running a household, hanging with the kids, resolving conflict, or granting privileges. That's okay. Kids easily accommodate to the differences in parenting styles and activities.

Words to Parent By

A parenting partner is any adult who shares parenting or child care responsibilities with you. It includes any adults who have direct involvement with, or influence on, your child's life.

Words to Parent By

A unified front is an agreed-upon approach to an issue. In disciplinary matters, it's best to at least have the appearance of total agreement. For instance, say you think dessert is to be eaten only after dinner, and your partner feels that anytime is the right time for chocolate. You might give in, for the sake of the unified front, but continue to negotiate privately.

Kids do, however, need to know what is expected of them. When your primary parenting partner is your child's other parent, the most important disciplinary issue is consistency. (Let's assume the two of you live together.) Consistency doesn't mean “sameness.” It's fine to apply values and beliefs differently, as long as there's a basic family understanding of what is important. Kids need clear, consistent guidelines, and they need a basic family commonality of valuesand beliefs.

Just on a purely pragmatic level, you and your partner need to establish some disciplinary guidelines: rules, limits, and consequences. Unless you're joined at the hips (I mean permanently!), you're not going to be able to check with each other about every little thing.

You and your partner are not Tweedledum and Tweedledee—you are separate individuals and, though you may share some values and ideas, there is likely much you don't agree about. This carries over to discipline. There will be times when the two of you just don't agree about an approach, a limit, a consequence, a response. How then, can you be consistent with your child about discipline?

Consistency can be planned for! Parenting and value differences are for you and your parenting partner to work out, privately. In “public,” in front of your kids, consistency is vital. If you're not consistent, your kids are going to play you off, one parent against another. You need to develop a unified front, that is, an agreed approach to the issues.

How do you develop a unified front? And how do you do it when you have different values or different approaches to parenting?

Developing a Unified Front

Working out your unified front may not require a “big” discussion, though it probably will be an ongoing process. If you've developed a family value statement and worked out family rules, then you're well on your way. Here are a few essentials about the unified front:

  • If you have a question about family policy, discuss it with your partner.
  • If your partner makes a snap decision, you need to support it. If you make a snap decision, your partner should support it. You can (and should) discuss your responses, beliefs, feelings, and suggestions for the future. But do it later, when the two of you are alone.
  • As much as possible, avoid having one person make unilateral decisions (especially if you tend to disagree).


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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