When two people come together in marriage or a relationship raising children, their differences are often highlighted. We see many couples who come to parenting classes seeking help working as a team and being on the same parenting page. This is a very admirable thing to do. As parents, it is important to work together for the best of your children. Acknowledging your different parenting styles is the first step in coming together and working as a team.
Focus on what you have in common. Find the core family values you both want to pass on to your kids and seek out ways to model these. Find the ways you parent the same and magnify those.
Find ways to appreciate what is different. You are different people, with different backgrounds, and will therefore, probably have different opinions on many things, parenting included. We are all unique, and it is that uniqueness that makes us special. Additionally, research shows that men and women will often parent differently. Research also shows that parental involvement in a child’s life, especially the father, is absolutely crucial to their development. Find ways to blend your two styles to what works best for your family.
Be consistent. Without consistency, a child can easily become confused and anxious. Children who are anxious or confused will often act out with misbehavior or disobedience. Think about your job. Would you function better in a more predictable environment, or one where your boss could snap at any moment, or sometimes rules are enforced and other times they aren’t? Children will meet many inconsistent people in their lives, and ensuring their home life is a safe haven provides security. They need to see they can always trust their parents.
Avoid power struggles. No one wins a power struggle, even if you end up getting your way. Power struggles between children and parents can lead to fighting and alienation. Power struggles between Mom and Dad can lead to issues in their marriage. When you are in a power struggle, you are not working together. You are in two positions of opposition. You win arguments by coming together and getting to a “yes” and agreeing together. Avoid arguments, especially when you are angry. Taking time to calm down when you are frustrated or angry helps you to think more clearly and models emotional control to your children. Take time to sit calmly and discuss the issue instead of battling.
Be a united front. How often do your kids think, “Well, Mom said no to this, so I’ll go ask Dad and see what he says.”? We teach parents to make sure their no means no, and their yes means yes. This goes to the other parent as well. If Mom says no then Dad also says no. If there is a reason Dad thinks the answer should be yes, it is acceptable for him to tell the child that he needs to discuss it with Mom, but until they have had a chance to talk it out, his answer is still no. We tell our kids that, “Mommy and Daddy are on the same team” and they know we are because we have set that boundary in our home. If this isn’t a current boundary in your home, it will take time before it is set in stone, but keep working at it.
Communicate. Talk about things and make sure you are on the same page. Find the time to sit a calmly discuss issues you may be having. Avoid using “you” sentences. “You need to do more when the kids are ____.” Criticism like this is an attack. Whereas making a structure complaint can be stated as an observation. Instead of “You always do this…” try “It seems like ___ is a struggle.” How you say things matters as much as what you say.
Understand where the other is coming from. You may not agree with how the other is parenting, but take a moment to understand WHY they are parenting that way. Is there a childhood wound they are parenting from? For example, do you want to buy your children a lot of Christmas presents because you never got any as a child? Or do you want to pay for your teenager’s car because you had to pay for your own (or visa versa)? Parenting from a childhood wound does not always justify parenting that way. But understanding why you or your spouse is parenting a certain way can help you come to agreements and common ground.
There are ways for two completely different people to come together for their children and make things work. As parents and adults, it is our job to step up and provide our children a safe, loving, and consistent environment. Your spouse is your partner. If you have tried everything you can think of and are still struggling, reach out for help with a local therapist or counselor. Sometimes having a mediator present can help you sort things out.
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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