My wife is stricter than me and we don’t agree on how to parent our kids

3 June 2024

"My wife runs a tight ship: there’s no doubt that our children, who are eight and six, listen and respect her. She’s stricter than me on things like snacks and magazines. I work very long hours while my wife does part time, so I don’t get as much time as she does with our children.

I love treating them – they’re not spoilt but I’m more likely to say yes to requests than she is. They’re not stupid and have started asking me for things more than her. She says we need to be consistent and is generally slightly disapproving of my parenting.

I know we’re both good parents and both love our children. Is it okay for us to parent differently?"

Laidback dad, age 38

‘Children who aren’t brought up with boundaries can feel less safe and display anger,’ says Kenny (Photo: Malte Mueller/fStop)

Of course you’re confusing your children. Consistency is so important for children so they know where they stand in their home.

If there are two parents in a home – as with your situation – the ideal is to present a united front with what is and isn’t allowed, and for boundaries to be solid and discussable. Children who aren’t brought up with boundaries can feel less safe and display anger.

When parents aren’t together as a couple, different parenting styles can add friction, but it is at least more easily understood by children because they can see there are different boundaries in different houses.


I wonder whether you want to treat your children because you want to get a fix of love from them because you don’t get as much time with them as you’d like? You might even feel left out of day-to-day family life, the fun that you’re missing out on and the closeness they have to their mum. But the best treat for children isn’t a snack or magazine – it’s attention, whether that’s playing, reading or listening to them and learning what they love and what they’re learning about life.

It can be tempting to appease children’s strong emotions with a temporary “treat” fix, but in my world, good parenting is the ability to remain present and solid with children as they experience strong emotions, so they know you’ll be there for them whatever they feel, both now while they’re children and when they meet the world as adults.

This solid presence and consistency will stop your children playing you and your wife off against each other, and strengthen your relationship with both her and them ahead of the negotiations and clever bargaining that can be part of their teenage years.


If you’re able to meet with a united front, making sure that everyone in the family is heard and boundaries are respected and can be negotiated, your children will respect you both and understand why you both make the decisions you do. Demonstrate with your presence, slowing things down so your children have the calmness to understand your reasoning.

So it’s not about rules, but about the reasons why we are saying this – so they can understand where you’re coming from rather than feeling hard done by or that things aren’t fair. Of course, that won’t stop children shouting that things aren’t fair: that’s all part of their growing up – and you being a consistent adult who is true to your word.

I’d suggest that you start to create this united front by talking about the dynamic between the two of you. Is your wife’s disapproval part of a role playing out here, where she’s the disciplinarian while you’re the playful pushover?


How do you feel about her disapproval: what does this bring up in you? Do you turn into a naughty little boy on the side of your kids, subtly demonising your wife? Do you turn into a rebel? Or have you just been too tired with all your obligations, both work and parenting, to really consciously think this through? How does she feel about this role? Does she feel like you’re a child or a parent when she’s disapproving?

Do you have enough time together as adults? And when you are together with each other, do you both enjoy adult roles with each other? Finding a way to create more time together as partners, rather than parents, might make this parent-child dynamic that might be playing out between the two of you less attractive – and easier to avoid.

Disapproval – especially when constant – can be toxic, so do keep an eye on any toxic behaviour in the house, whether subtle or not. Sometimes disapproval stems from struggling to find other ways to communicate feelings.


I wonder what this dynamic brings up from your own childhood – and from your wife’s. Together, hopefully you can work on direct communication rather than defaulting to the passive-aggression of disapproval.

It’s important to chat about how you can both change your behaviour in front of the children: her disapproval of you and your reaction to this is surely already showing them how the world works – and how power within a family can play out.

The more transparent your family is, the more emotional intelligence you’ll be showing – and passing onto – your children. Demonstrating honest communication, vulnerability and adult negotiation can be one of the most empowering and nurturing things you pass onto your children.


I’m sure that at times you’ll feel like a bad parent and your children will punish you, and I’m sure that at times you will get things wrong. This is a golden opportunity for you to demonstrate admitting a failure and putting things right again, so they know they are not under pressure to be perfect all the time.

I’d recommend also making time with your wife to talk through your own childhoods and what you want for your children. Think about the values you want your children to hold as adults, then you’ll be able to parent consciously. It’s fine to take your time to respond to your children, to talk to each other about big decisions, rather than be seduced into immediately meeting their frenzy of demands.

The truth is, your children are going to do what you do, irrespective of what you say. So be true to your values and show your love and respect to both them and each other.


In the long term, raising children involves times when you need to be firm, and others where you can be more laid back. I hope that both you and your wife can change the dynamic in your home so you both get to enjoy all of this, rather than her being the rule maker and you being the rule breaker, sneaking them sweeties which might drive a huge saccharine wedge of resentment between the two of you and leave your children confused and wondering if it’s possible to manipulate their way through the world.