We have three children, a boy age five, and two girls who are three and eight. My wife is a fabulous mother except she is too soft. Things get out of control with the children. Then she cracks down on the children and feels guilty. She apologizes and changes her mind about punishment. Her parents were very harsh and she doesn’t want to be that way. It’s the only thing we really fight about. I am probably too strict to make up for her.
There are two dimensions to discipline. The warmth-coldness dimension involves being loving or harsh to children. It is always better to be warm and loving to children. Your wife’s warmth will help the children have self confidence.
The second dimension is low to high expectations. High expectations that are matched to the age and ability of the child are best. High expectations help children control their behaviour.
High warmth combined with high expectations lead to confident, capable and respectful children.
Many parents often think they can’t be warm and have high expectations. They feel guilty about demanding too much. They lower their expectations. Low expectations encourage poor self control misbehaviour in the children.
When your children misbehave with your wife, she gets frustrated and becomes harsh. Her harshness reminds her of everything she doesn’t want to be. So she gives up and accepts poor behaviour. She has low expectations of her children. This vicious cycle will make your wife feel incompetent.
She may resent it if the children behave better with you.
The most important lesson for your wife to learn is that she can have high warmth and high expectations at the same time. She doesn’t have to be harsh to have high expectations.
You say you are too strict to make up for your wife. Perhaps she is too soft to make up for your strictness.
I am sure you have told her how she is wrong in the way she disciplines many times. You may have tried to help her change. I wonder why she doesn’t change? No matter how nicely you tell her what she does wrong, it will not work.
If you want to help your wife, if your goal is to help your children, change yourself. Become more like your wife in her warmth. You say she is fabulous at it. Combine warmth and firmness in what you do.
Don’t even mention your wife’s lack of firmness or her exploding at the kids.
If she brings up her difficulty with the children, be careful. Don’t criticize her. Be supportive. Point out that she is a fabulous mother. If she asks you what to do, honestly ask her what she thinks might work. But don’t tell her what to do. Don’t be sarcastic. She probably realizes what she is doing wrong. She doesn’t need you to tell her. She needs you to support her efforts.
This indirect way of helping your wife is the best way to encourage her to continue her loving ways but to become a bit stricter. She will not change all at once. It will take time.