It's a cliched saying but a very real problem.
Disciplining kids is a painful but necessary part of setting your kids on the right path towards becoming functional adults. If a child has misbehaved or acted up towards one parent (whether mum or dad) then that parent should be the one to mete out the punishment. All too often, a parent will try to pass the buck for discipline by delivering that all-too-common phrase - "wait til your father/mother gets home".
With this statement, no one is happy. Let us walk you through each person's perspective:
The child knows that they have done wrong, and have often done so to push the boundaries and test what they can get away with. They are usually already feeling a mixture of:
guilt for having disobeyed;
anger that they got caught;
fear of the consequences; and
shame that their behaviour is being called out (often in front of siblings or friends).
While they may want to make amends for their behaviour, putting off or delaying the consequences of their misbehaviour denies them the opportunity to make the situation right.
Similarly, delaying punishment forces children to experience absolute dread and fear for the rest of the day as they wait for the punishment that they know is coming. They become angry at both parents, surly towards friends and siblings and increasingly withdrawn and anxious. Often, what the child imagines will happen is far worse than the actual punishment itself.
While some parents may think that this is the intention, it forces the child's attention on the punishment, rather than the behaviour that got them in trouble in the first place. By the time the enforcing parent comes home, the child may not even remember why they were in trouble in the first place!
2. Delaying parent
The parent against whom the offending behaviour was delivered is obviously angry and maybe even hurt they they have been disobeyed. They are probably stressed with the 101 other things that they are juggling and are fed up with wrangling kids. They feel justified in bringing the other parent in to take some of the brunt of the discipline requirements and to help carry the load of parenting.
With anger and frustration standing between the parent and child, the relationship is damaged and needs to be repaired. But the frustration and resentment on both sides does not have the opportunity to dissipate and pass, meaning both parent and child continue to stew, often ruining the rest of their day together.
The child may also lose respect for the delaying parent, particularly if their initial misbehaviour was to test the boundaries and see what they can get away with.
There is also the anticipation and expectation of what the enforcing parent will do to punish the child. If the enforcing parent does not "do it right", the delaying parent may be angry and hurt with the enforcing parent's reluctance to support them and the disciplining of their children - they'll be on a different page when it comes to disciplining children. This damages the relationship between the parents.
3. Enforcing parent
When the enforcing parent does return home, they may be stressed, tired and relieved to be home. Immediately on walking through the door, they are bombarded on all sides with demands and defences that should not have been their problem in the first place. To appear to be backing up their spouse, the enforcing parent has to dredge up anger for their disobedient child and mete out appropriate punishment.
Given how challenging discipline is for most parents, it is no wonder that a parent may be reluctant or annoyed at having to mete out punishment for behaviour that they did not experience, or was not directed at them.
The enforcing parent can't win. They either become the 'bad cop' in their family, or are considered to have not backed up their spouse. And, in most cases, their relationship with both their spouse and their child is damaged as a result of the unwanted obligation thrust on them.
Between spouses, this one statement can cause resentment, frustration, anger and pain.
Any issues of this nature fundamentally breakdown relationships. Parents should remove this statement from their vocabulary entirely and should deal with any behavioural issues as and when they arise. This allows all in the family to resolve issues and move forward with their day and their relationship.
If you're struggling with disciplining your children, or are resenting your spouse for pushing you into an 'enforcer' role, contact Sue on 0439 294 532 for a FREE 15 minute consultation to find out how we can help get your relationships back on track.