When Parents Disagree About Parenting
Who knew that parenting could be so hard on your marriage?? When we meet someone and children aren’t even on our radars, we don’t really know that our parenting styles might clash. And anyone who’s been married to someone with a polar-opposite style of parenting will tell you that it’s that difference in styles that causes the most grief at home.
It actually isn’t uncommon for parents to have different styles from one another. Usually there’s one parent who falls into a more permissive style and one who falls into a more authoritative style, although the way that difference looks is as unique as each family. The degree of difference between the two styles tends to cause more of a problem than the fact that we may each parent differently. When you’re both closer toward the same end of the spectrum, it tends to be easier to find that common middle ground than if you’re at one end of the extreme and your partner is at the other.
When you’re both convinced that you’re right, how do you successfully parent together?
Don’t Disagree In Front Of The Kids
This is the most important ground rule. Do not disagree about parenting strategies in front of your kids.
If your partner has taken a stance that you disagree with or instituted a consequence or punishment that you think is too harsh, by all means, have a conversation about it. Just don’t do it in front of the kids. That sends a number of messages to your children that you don’t want: that Mom (for example) doesn’t need to be listened to because Dad always swoops in and overrides her anyway, that if there’s something the child wants, there’s a specific parent to go to for it, or that if he plays up how mean and unfair Mom was, Dad will feel sorry for him and overcompensate by giving in or giving him something to “make up” for the overly harsh and unfair behaviour of Mom, to name a few. This kind of bickering or discounting between Mom and Dad can lead kids to see an opening to create a wedge between their parents, and to then use this wedge to their advantage.
Any way you look at it, no one wins when Moms and Dads disagree about discipline in front of the kids. (And to be honest, no one wins when they disagree or fight about anything in front of the kids, so as a general rule: don’t do it.)
Whoever Starts The Disciplining, Finishes It
In an ideal world, the best case scenario would be that Moms and Dads are 100% on the same page when it comes to discipline. That doesn’t always happen, of course, even if, generally, they are in agreement and are fairly close to one another on that parenting style spectrum. So have an agreement that whoever starts the discipline will finish it.
If your daughter complains about the way Dad handled a sassy response, even if his spouse disagrees with how it went down, when Daughter comes to complain, his spouse should avoid getting involved: “I hear how upset you are, but that’s between you and Dad, and I know the two of you can work it out.” Forcing your partner to participate in the policing of your discipline strategy only breeds resentment if your partner doesn’t agree that it was an appropriate approach.
As parents, we’re going to make mistakes too, and not all of our disciplining tactics are going to be effective all of the time. The point is not to never make a mistake as a parent, but to follow through on the choices you’ve made without expecting someone else (i.e. your partner) to share — or take over — a course of action that he or she doesn’t agree with.
Maybe you’ll come to an agreement on how to handle discipline across the board, or maybe you won’t. It doesn’t matter if you can’t completely see eye to eye. If you follow these strategies for when you and your partner disagree, you can make agreeing to disagree work for your family.
What if it isn’t your spouse you disagree with, but your parents? Check out this article for ideas.