My dad tells it like this:
“I remember the moment I knew my mother wasn’t the boss. I was little and had taken something forbidden so I was running down the hall away from mother. She was chasing me and trying to get it back. Then she said it. ‘Just wait until your father gets home!‘ It clicked. Sure, maybe I was gonna get it from my father when he got home, but that meant I could do what I wanted all day.”
Just wait until your father gets home….
The ultimate threat… or is it? Those seven words, placed in that order, might not have the long-term effect you desire. Even if your children have a healthy fear of their dad’s discipline, knowing they will get in trouble come 5:30 probably won’t make them behave like angels for you the rest of the day. Whether you and your husband share the discipline duties or your husband is the main disciplinarian, this is still a phrase to consider eliminating from your vocabulary.
Let’s dig deeper.
1. Discipline is most effective when performed immediately.
Unless the disobedient act or behavior is severe enough to warrant a lengthy punishment and, therefore, a while to consider what that punishment may be, the best time to deliver discipline is immediately. Younger children do not have a long attention span, much less a memory for things that don’t seem important at the time. If one child hits or kicks another, waiting for 6 hours before discipline is unlikely to do anything but confuse the child and give them negative feelings towards their father, the bad cop.
With a toddler, almost anything but the immediate correction will be lost. Whether you do time out, loss of privilege or anything else, the best time to begin the process is right after the infraction. This creates a cause / effect relationship in the child’s mind. Operant conditioning, if you will. Do it fast and do it right and the behavior should lessen significantly with time.
2. Don’t give away your authority.
Whether or not your husband is the stronger disciplinarian is not the point. The point is you needn’t communicate to your children that you personally are not able to determine what’s best. Your child may interpret this statement loosely as “mommy can’t make me stop, only daddy can so if daddy isn’t home, then I can do what I please.”
If your want your kids to obey you and have a healthy respect of your authority, then you need to communicate to them that – when it’s your watch – the buck stops with you. This does not undermine partnership. Far from it. You are trusted to take care of the kids when your husband is away and, therefore, you can be trusted to discipline them as well.
3. You can still take time to decide a course of action.
If the child is old enough and the act severe enough to warrant something like a week without TV or being grounded for a month, then you can still feel free to take time in deciding the appropriate punishment. You don’t want to punish severely in haste and have to take it back later. But that does not mean using the phrase “just wait until your father gets home” in an attempt to scare them into doing what’s right.
Fear, while a powerful emotion, is not a healthy way to control your children’s behavior. The goal is for them to make good decisions out of a right heart, not to begrudgingly do what you ask because they’re afraid daddy will manhandle them after dinner. Yes, the threat of negative consequences will naturally deter bad behavior, but there should be a delicate balance between correction with and without punishment.
4. It puts your husband in an awkward position.
Imagine a father coming home, after a hard day’s work, waiting to be greeted by tiny voices and squeals at the door. Instead, mama is at the door with her hands on her hips and the kids cowering behind her as she says…
“Do something about Fergus, he kicked Penelope this morning so hard she has a bruise.”
Since the behavior was not an acceptable one, he’ll feel compelled to address it. Instead of the child being previously corrected and now able to enjoy his dad’s company, it’ll be rehashed and he’ll barely have time to recover before being sent to bed.
Sometimes, when a behavior does warrant a “come to Jesus meeting,” dad should be given fair warning so he doesn’t come home to a subarctic temperature house with children waiting and worrying. Also worth considering, the children most likely spend a lot less time with their father throughout the week than they do with their mother. If this is the case, I would consider taking care of much of the discipline yourself since you have plenty of time to show your unconditional love and acceptance afterwards.
Your husband, if asked to carry out discipline in the few hours he has each evening or on weekends, will have less time to shed the “bad cop” label. Plus this way, when the act is severe enough to warrant an evening intervention with daddy, this will be like bringing out the big guns.
If you feel discouraged because your kids only listen to their dad and not you, then chin up! It may take a tweak or two here or there to your parenting strategy, but you can take back your portion of the leadership you’ve abdicated to your husband. And he’ll probably thank you.
“It is a function of love to discipline your child just as God disciplines His children. And it is an act of hatred not to discipline them in some way.” – Elyse Fitzgerald.
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