When Parents Clash
What do you do when you and your partner have differences in parenting styles?
It’s a surprisingly common dilemma. My experience is that, if we look at parenting as a continuum, with authoritative parenting on the one extreme and laissez-faire on the other, most couples don’t fall on the spectrum at the exact same spot. If you’re lucky, the distance between you isn’t too great, but what if you really feel you are on opposite ends of the spectrum?
As with most things in parenting and relationships, communication is the first place to start. Have an honest conversation about what your priorities as a parent are, and see if you and your partner can’t come up with some sort of agreement on what matters most to you. While you might not be that far off in what you value and want to teach your kids, you might, in fact, be surprised as to what the most important aspects are to your partner. Talk about all of these elements and priorities honestly, perhaps over more than one conversation.
Next, you need to determine how to best meet the parenting goals you have set for yourself. While you may feel that the best way to encourage responsibility is to allow your children to make their own decisions, your partner may feel that having a good mentor (such as a parent) who makes important decisions on their behalf, is the best course of action. Take some time and thoughtfully consider whether or not the actions and path you’ve chosen up until now are really going to lead you to the place you want to be. If it starts to seem illogical that catering to your child’s every whim, for example, is going to prepare him for a life that will inevitably include disappointment, now is the time to change your strategy. Familiar with the definition of crazy? It’s doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.
Don’t be surprised, too, if some elements of your own childhood pop up in the equation. You may have had an absent parent, and the loss has left you smothering and hovering over your kids today. You may have loved a certain element of what your parents did, but it just doesn’t seem to be working the way you might think with your own children. Maybe all you need is a little self-checking in order to get back on course, or perhaps having some counselling or therapy yourself to help you resolve the pain of your own experience is what would be best (if you’re looking for a psychotherapist in Oakville, I’d be happy to meet to talk about these challenges with you). That’s a decision for you to make yourself. Too often we parent mindlessly, getting into habits or ruts that aren’t really working, for whatever reason, and if this process helps you to uncover some of those ruts, just know that it’s never too late to make a positive change.
Another suggestion I often have for clients is to have your own little “parenting book club”. Buy a parenting book (you can check the Resources page on this site for some ideas and places to start), then take turns reading it, one chapter at a time. At the end of each chapter, talk about what you liked, what you didn’t, what you think might work, and create a plan for actually implementing some of the strategies suggested. If you’re both working together, from the same starting point, it’s a lot easier to have a unified front when a challenge hits, and to trust that your partner will handle things as you would, when you’re not around.
Always start from the beginning and build from there. Working together, with a philosophy that you can both live with, is the best way to success. While we can never change someone who doesn’t want to be changed, we can create an environment between the two of you that makes it easy for your partner to meet you halfway, with a middle-ground approach that you can both feel good about.