Byron & Francine Pirola

It’s 3am and Bron and James are in a standoff. Their toddler has woken for the third time that night and is not interested in going back to sleep. Demand feeding worked well for the first six months, but now, she is 11 months old and the sleep deprivation is taking its toll. Bron wants to take a firmer hand – put the baby into the cot and let her cry; she’s not hungry, sick, dirty or wet, she insists. James doesn’t agree. Their daughter’s plaintive whimpering tears at his heart and even though he has an early start and desperately needs sleep, he can’t stand to hear her cry. And this is not the first time they’ve had this argument. Bron hangs her head in her hands – why is this so hard? she wonders as James grumpily takes the baby out of the cot to the lounge room. She weeps softly as the realisation dawns that it will be the same every night until the baby ‘grows out’ of the night feeds.

Parenting and in particular, discipline, is a contentious issue for many couples. Parenting opinions can be deeply engrained and emotionally loaded. Some couples resolve it by one spouse giving way to the

other and others wrestle over every difference. What’s worse, most new parents are chronically sleep deprived eroding their capacity for expansive thinking and generosity. Here are five tips for navigating these troubled waters.

  1. Unity between husband and wife is paramount.
    Parenting experts say over and over that parenting style (eg permissive verses strict) is not nearly as important as consistency between husband and wife. When Mum and Dad have different standards, kids learn to play one off the other. So get on the same page as much as possible. This means doing a bit of pre-emptive planning because the worst time to attempt resolving your parenting differences is in the heat of the moment, with a toddler having a melt-down in the supermarket or a teenager waiting for permission for a sleepover.
  2. Practice what you preach.
    It’s kind of obvious, but your attempts to parent and provide boundaries won’t be respected if you routinely disregard your own rules. If you don’t want your teens drinking, model responsible drinking. If you want your child to go to bed at a reasonable hour, make sure you do too.
  3. Examine your parenting formation.
    We all come into parenthood with beliefs and expectations about what constitutes good parenting. Sometimes this is adopted from our family of origin experience and sometimes it is the direct opposite of what our parents did. The question is: are you freely choosing the behaviour from a place of rationality? Most times, even when we reject a value from our family of origin, we do so compulsively. Be intentional about what you choose to adopt or reject into your parenting repertoire.
  4. Educate yourself.
    When it comes to parenting, everyone’s an ‘expert’ – we’ve all been parented and we all believe that the experience of being a child makes us qualified to be a parent. The truth is, a lot of parenting wisdom is based on myth, speculation or plain old “we’ve always done it this way” defensiveness. Get updated from the true experts – those who have made it their life-time study.
  5. Tailor your response for each child.
    Some might think that by the time a couple gets to their third or fourth child that they have the parenting thing all worked out. Remember, every child is unique and will require a tailored response. For example, among our children, some responded better when we removed access to pocket money, while for others, grounding was more effective.

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