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One of the issues that pops up most frequently when I meet with parents is the concern, and oftentimes disagreement and frustration, that comes with differing styles of parenting. Parents who parent differently happens all the time, partly because we were all raised differently from each other, and parenting style is heavily influenced (consciously and unconsciously) by the way you were parented and by your own attachment style and partly because we have all had different life experiences that contribute to why we do what we do as parents.
Differing parenting styles are not necessarily a good or a bad thing, the tricky part is finding ways to make differing styles work while remaining a united front. There it is, the key to making it work….remaining a team that supports each other even in the face of disagreement. So how does this work exactly?
This first thing to work on is communication. Parents have to be willing to communicate with each other about how and why they are making parenting decisions. This might look like explaining to each other why you are utilizing a specific discipline strategy, discussing what feels important about a certain decision you make with your kids, discussing alternatives and sharing ideas about different ways to handle a situation, or even having a conversation after a decision has been made to let the other parent know that you do or don’t agree with how they handled something and either agreeing to problem solve or agreeing to disagree while still supporting them in front of the kids.
The second one is big: don’t throw each other under the bus! There is rarely a time when undermining your partner in front of your kids will result in a positive outcome. It will only create a negative response from your partner to you and send the message to your kids that the foundation that they depend on is shaky. There is always room for discussion away from the kids about parenting decisions, and unless there is some type of physical or emotional damage being done in the moment, it’s best to keep your feedback to yourself until later.
Pro parenting tip: If you are about to make a decision that you suspect your partner will disagree with, put your kiddo “on hold.” Say something like, “This is important, and I will get back to you very soon with an answer. Mom/Dad/etc. and I need a little bit of time to talk about this.” (Even better: give them a deadline when you will get back to them. “I’ll let you know before dinner tonight.”)
Here’s the third thing: work on understanding why you do what you do as a parent. Dr. Dan Siegel wrote a wonderful book called Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. In it, he elaborates on why we parent the way we do. The number one takeaway is this: parents who work on making sense of their own childhood experiences (whether they were positive or negative) are able to raise children who are securely attached to them. They are able to stop the cycle of insecure attachment by making sense of how their past experiences have affected them. I realize the vagueness of this concept, and unfortunately, I can’t go into an explanation of what all this entails and how this can be accomplished in this blog post, but it can definitely be done in the context of some counseling sessions.
There are of course benefits to differing parenting styles in a household. Parents who can find a way to navigate and merge their differing styles will send the message to their children that differences can be complimentary and productive and will model the value of compromise, and we all know that compromising is a necessary, life-long skill. Children will also learn that relationships can handle differences, and everyone agreeing is not a requirement for success in a relationship.
So what works best? There is no lack of research on this topic. Authoritative parenting is by far the most research-supported, effective way to parent. Authoritative parents value being consistent over being the perfect parent. They frequently utilize communication in establishing rules and expectations, and involve their children in these discussions. Authoritative parents show their kids high levels of warmth and nurturing while maintaining limits and keeping with fair discipline. These parents are attuned and responsive to their children’s needs but hold them accountable for their actions.
With any type of parenting, and whether differing parenting styles are present or not, remember that it’s always ok to back and correct parenting missteps. We want kids to know that we make mistakes too, and we need to model for them how to handle correcting a bad decision. Modeling is crucial for children’s learning, and it strengthens the parent-child relationship. As an added benefit, when a partner notices that things are going well between you and your child, there is a good chance that they will try the methods and approaches that you are using. In this way, instead of pressuring or trying to talk your partner into doing things “your way,” just model want you want to happen, and when it works, they will likely want to give it a try!
If you feel that you need additional tips regarding parenting and children, you contact us to make a counseling appointment or read more about child counseling and family and parenting counseling on our dedicated pages. Additionally, for more parenting tips, you can read When Parenting Breaks You and In Defense of Relentless Problem-Solving.