At one of our workshops, we discussed the importance of teamwork in parenting. One of the participants expressed her frustration by saying, "My husband and I often have different opinions on how to discipline our teenagers. If I say yes, he will say no. When he wants to deal with the situation in a nice way, I want to be tough. Our children sense the difference and play us one against the other. They ask permission to do things from the parent who will give the preferred answer. Why can't we be like other couples who always think alike?" she asked.

My response was, "If you and your husband were to think alike, there would be one of you too many..."

One of the beauties of marriage is that it unites two people who are so different in almost every physical, emotional and intellectual aspect. Moreover, it is because each parent contributes in his or her own individual way that the child can derive the full benefits of a healthy upbringing. However, some parents who do not enjoy a healthy relationship with each other may get caught up playing the "good cop/ bad cop" game. They think they will earn the child's love and respect by being nicer than the other parent is. In realty, it is just the opposite. While the "better" parent may gain love in the short term, they will lose respect in the long term, as well as doing harm and causing confusion to the child.

Differences between parents can occur for a number of reasons. One parent may be more assertive by nature, the other more laid back. One may have more patience than the other. Alternatively, they may simply be modelling the parenting styles of their own parents. The most common difference, however, especially when it comes to teenagers, is the degree of emotional involvement on the part of the parent. With a young child, it is usually easier to separate your emotions when approaching the child's misbehaviour, by reminding yourself that he or she is only a child. This becomes harder to do this as the child gets older and becomes a teenager. One of the parents may get into a "combative" mode in his or her relationship with an adolescent child, while the other retains a greater degree of objectivity.

I suggested to the woman that she should formulate with her husband the following approach to discipline: all issues should be discussed between the two of you, in private, and you must reach a conclusion on a policy that you are both happy to use. If one of you is not happy with your parenting policy, it will lack the consistency that is a vital element for good discipline. If necessary, you may want to consult a third party whom you trust, in order to find an approach that both of you can agree with.

Once the policy is established, sit down with your teenager and explain the rules that both of you as parents are going to apply. Be very clear that these rules are not negotiable, and that in the case that changes may be appropriate, only you, the parents, acting together as a team, will consider any changes that might become necessary.

If one of you becomes emotionally affected by what the child has done, it is wise to allow the other parent to deal with the situation, or to wait until the agitated parent has calmed down. You can tell your child how upset you are and that you think it is wise not to deal with the situation now. You will be teaching your child a lesson that you, too, are human, and that sometimes it is best to wait until the emotions have calmed down in order to make rational decisions and take sensible action.

Try teamwork parenting — it works!