Dear Dr. Bill,
My son is 4-years-old and I have him approximately 5 months out of the year due to a divorce. My biggest struggle is getting him to follow the rules. He can be very stubborn and defiant, and I respond with either a timeout or spanking if he refuses to obey. But here’s the problem — his mother is extremely passive and when he’s with her, she doesn’t enforce anything.
So far I’ve been unable to get my ex-wife to understand why we need a consistent set of rules and discipline for our son. What should I do?
You wouldn’t believe the number of divorced parents who have contacted me about this issue. It is a true dilemma, and unfortunately there are no easy answers.
Your first strategy should be to try again to discuss this issue with your ex-wife in a kind but assertive way. DON’T try to talk to her about this in the midst of conflict or in front of your son.
Approach her gently and tell her you know how much she loves your son and that you’re sure she wants the best for him. But let her know that you are concerned about his behavior and that you feel it’s critical for both of you to be on the same page when it comes to discipline and parenting style.
Rather than insisting that your way is the right way, ask her if she would be willing to find a structured parenting program that you both can agree on, and then go through the program either together (or separately, if you live in different cities).
If you make it clear that your motivation is the best interest of your son, not proving that you’re the better parent, she may be open to this. If she denies there’s a problem, chances are she’ll receive a very clear message about his behavior when he enters pre-school or kindergarten. Hopefully at that point she’ll be more open to making changes.
Thanks for writing Tim! If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Culture Connection page.