Parents, Unite! What Happens if a “Mean” Mom Lives With a “Softie” Dad?

What the kids wanted was not what they got, and for once, my husband I didn’t agree.

First, happy new year. And second, thanks to my Facebook Mean Moms Rule subscribers, who answered my “what should I blog about next/what do you guys want to talk about” post the other day. So many great ideas! I’ve decided to start by addressing this: What happen when you and the adult person you’re raising your kids with aren’t on the same page with issues like discipline? You know, you’re mean, he’s mushy? You make a rule, he scoffs? (Or, of course, vice versa)? Love it! So here goes:

I think I may have said this four million times in the past, but my husband and I are so on the same parenting page. Before we had kids, the realization that my congenital mean-mom streak (thanks, Mom!) and relentless practicality, bred in a baby-makin’ petri dish with my husband’s stern (but, okay, goofy) German genes made us laugh. Our poor kids; they don’t stand a chance!

Now, of course, real kids are different from their theoretical forebears, but still, we were mostly right. We just have the same, or very similar, values when it comes to raising kids. We both prefer the long view to short-term success, which means neither of us is likely to give in to a sweet puppy dog face asking to put off homework or get out of chores or sub candy canes for broccoli, any more than than we’re likely to distractedly and disgustedly buy a stupid toy at Target to quell a brewing tantrum. We got these boys, me and Mean Dad, and we have to turn them into good men.

And sometimes we screw up.

Back in early September, we went to the beach with our friends and their kids, a kind of farewell to the beach on the first weekend after school started. We planned to meet in the late afternoon, and hang out while the sun set and the kids played, then get pizza from a restaurant right on the beach. Perfect.

My children, like many, have a Pavlovian response to going pretty much anywhere where ice cream is available, and of course the beach-side restaurant that serves pizza also sells ice cream. Some time during the evening, our friends told their kids that they wouldn’t be buying ice cream on that particular night, because they’d stopped for a frozen treat earlier that day.

Which is exactly something I would say, in the same circumstance. Thing is, I’d already thought about buying my kids a treat. But in a friend-wide effort to present that coveted united front, I decided against it, and braced for impact.

My husband was on my side.

And the kids, bless their persistent hearts, pushed back, hard. All of them.

And I wavered. I forget the gory details now, and you’d think it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but something happened and the upshot was that I was ready to buy my kids a bomb pop or whatever, but my husband had already leapt ahead of me to take a harder line. Our friends, perhaps feeling bad that their no-ice cream stance had started the whole mess, whispered to me that if I wanted to cave, they would too. I thought about stopping somewhere else for a cone on the way home. I thought, seriously, that the whole thing was ridiculous (like I said, I don’t remember how it spiraled out of control so quickly and spectacularly, but it did).

But here’s one thing I think I did right. My husband and I disagreed, and pretty strongly at one point. And while the children were leaping around and moaning and wailing (seriously — how does that happen? You’d think they were told they’d never have ice cream again, ever), I pulled my man six or eight feet outside the fray, and we battled it out.

And we decided that since I didn’t speak up before he did about my thought that we’d cave on the ‘scream, and since when he did speak up he did so with his Dad Voice (see: German), his stance would remain our stance. I honestly did think — and I told him this — that in this end-of-summer case, getting the ice cream/caving in wouldn’t be that destructive to our usual “because we said so/suck it up” demeanor, but the point is this: Sticking to a united front was more important than winning the point. It got ridiculous, but it was still more useful to show our kids that we weren’t caving to the ridiculousness than it would have been to dismiss the ridiculousness.

We don’t always agree. But I tell you, our kids never, ever see that.

Our boys — no joke, they were insane that night — cried and wailed and swore they were so, so sorry for their behavior and could we please, please stop for ice cream — all the way home from the beach. It was all we could do to not cry ourselves. Or laugh.

But we held firm (and one of the best things about situations like this while in the car is you don’t have to turn around and look at their whiny pathetic faces, right?!).

At home, both of us were exhausted out of all proportion to the actual event. (I repeat: The beach. Fun. Sunset. Pizza. Friends. But no ice cream. So yeah, disaster. Pffft), but we were proud of having not descended to their level, for taking our strangely heated exchange that few feet down the beach.

And the next evening, after a very nice day spent together? We got us some fro yo, yes we did!

How do you handle parental mismatches in discipline?