I love the Franklin P. Jones quote, “Children are unpredictable.  You never know what inconsistency they are going to catch you in next!”    Consistency matters a great deal in parenting.    Ensuring that you and your spouse are on the same page in how you raise your children will make life easier for your family.    

Why does consistency matter?

Consistency creates a more predictable world for kids, and a more predictable world is a more comfortable one.    Whether it’s a routine schedule or established discipline expectations, consistency makes the world less scary and lowers anxiety.  Consistency is also the foundation for helping kids learn values and self-control.   When kids have consistent boundaries placed upon them, they can internalize that predictability within their own self.   Finally, between parents and children,       consistency is the basis for trust:   I trust you because you do what you say will do.          

 What does consistency look like?

For parents, there are two types of consistency:  consistency within a parent and consistency between parents.  Consistency within a parent, means that I do what I say I will do, even when I am tired or in a hurry.  Consistency between parents means that we do what we say will do and we are on the same page.

 Here are some tips for creating both types of consistency in your family:

  • Use your values as a starting point and choose a few simple rules that align with those values:  We value education, so you must do your homework every day.
  • Make the rules simple and the consequences concrete:  If you don’t do your homework, you cannot play a video game.
  • Only choose consequences you are willing to enforce:  Do not ground your teen until adulthood for missing a curfew – this will be impossible to enforce!
  • Be realistic and age-appropriate:  A chore for a 4-year old looks very different than a chore for a 14-year old.  One can put his dirty clothes in a hamper, one can do laundry.  Think about your child’s age and abilities when setting rules and expectations.
  • Develop predictable daily routines:   What time do you get up, go to bed, eat meals, do homework?    This consistency of routine provides a structure for kids and helps them feel cared for and safe.

What if my spouse and I disagree?

Sticking to your own parenting rules is one thing, but what do you do if you and your spouse disagree about rules?  Presenting a united front maintains parental authority.  When parents send mixed messages, children pick up on that and play parents against each other.   When that happens, the focus becomes mom versus dad instead of teaching your child.  Consider these suggestions to help you and your spouse get on the same page:

  • Have conversations about parenting when you are both calm.  In the midst of an argument, you will not be able to solve your parenting differences.
  • Have these conversations in private.  Take turns talking about why a rule matters to you and then try to understand your spouse’s differing point of view.  Both opinions matter.  Remember that you have the same goal of raising a happy, healthy and competent kid.
  • Compromise.  Once you have each understood the other’s point of view, find a solution that is acceptable to both of you.
  • Back your spouse up!  In the moment, back your spouse up (unless it is an issue of abuse or neglect) and then sort it out privately later.  

Kids feel safest when they feel their parents get along and there is a predictability to their world.  Keep in mind that if you change the rules on your kids, there might be resistance at first and things often get worse before they get better.  Kids might resist the new structure, but ultimately, they will settle in and adapt to their new boundaries.