Parenting is hard and parenting with your sweetie can be fertile ground for conflict and arguments, especially when each of you have different parenting styles. In the therapy hour, I see up close and personal how different parenting styles can lead to disagreements, conflict, and intense arguments with couples. What’s amazing-parents end up spending more time arguing with each other, than focusing on the parenting situation, which is often ignored and often never resolved.
In a previous post, I wrote about four different parenting styles. In this post, I want to offer some suggestions on what couples can do when they have different parenting styles or have a parenting situation that is causing conflict in their relationship.
Consider the following to decrease conflict with co-parenting:
1. Talk. Set aside time to have a conversation about parenting. While I know it can be near impossible to have kid-free time and not multi-task, make an effort to create a space to have a conversation without distractions and interruptions. Spend a few minutes talking about one another’s parenting style. Identify the strengths each partner brings to parenting. Next, talk about what is working with parenting and share what can be improved. Keep the conversation balanced with strengths, we all have them, and not to “blame” or “criticize” everything about your sweetie’s parenting style. Make specific requests in the areas you want to see improvement. And remember to limit your requests to three or less, otherwise, it can seem overwhelming to make changes.
2. Learn to Compromise. There is no one “right” way to parent. Instead, there is a range of what is acceptable, from permissive to strict. Couples can create a set-up for intense conflict when there is a belief that “my way” is the only way to parent. I often encourage parents to be flexible and not rigid or absolute when co-parenting. Of course, some things are non-negotiable; such as a child’s safety, supervision (what is developmentally appropriate), and situations of neglect and verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, all are not ever to be tolerated and need immediate intervention. Taking into account the above mentioned are not present in one’s home, it’s essential for couples to find a middle ground in parenting.
3. Be a United Front. I think one of the most critical skills in parenting, is to support your sweetie in front of your children. This means, no sarcasm, put-downs, teasing or undermining one another when there is a disagreement in parenting. Let your kids see that you and your partner support and respect one another in parenting. Exceptions include if one parent is being verbally abusive or stressed out and letting his/her emotions overtake the situation, then it’s critical to step in and request the person to stop the behavior and take a break to regroup. But in general, when disagreements occur in front of your child, you have two choices: support one another and talk it out in private or resolve the conflict in a healthy way in front of your child (read #4).
4. Teach Healthy Ways to Resolve Conflict. When you and your partner disagree about a parenting issue, it’s helpful on occasion to do so in front of your children. Conflict and disagreements are part of life and will certainly be part of your child’s life. By showing ways to resolve conflict in healthy, respectful ways, you will demonstrate to your child that resolving disagreements is a natural part of any relationship.
5. Parent with Intention. Each age and stage of parenting is unique, requiring reflection and readjustment. As your child grows and as you gain experience parenting, create moments to reflect on what is working with your parenting style and what needs to be improved. Think about what is important to you and how you want to support and encourage your child. And most importantly, don’t be overly critical about your parenting mistakes, use them as an opportunity to learn and improve.
6. Be a Role Model. Parents are the greatest teachers to children. And children are incredible observers of their environment. How a parent behaves, cares for oneself, and copes with stress is more of a lesson than anything a parent can say to their child. Be a role model to your child and demonstrate in your life the things that you ask of your child.
7. Take Care of Yourself. Parenting is stressful and at times feels like it’s never-ending. Taking care of yourself through self-care skills such as getting enough sleep, nourishment, hydration, exercise, spending time with friends and having fun, all put reserves into your well-being. The more you care for yourself, the easier it is to access healthy coping skills, especially with the demands of parenting.
8. Educate Yourself on Parenting Styles and Strategies. A theme I hear over and over in couples sessions is how men are frustrated how mothers have the “final say” on most of the parenting decisions. And here’s an interesting fact: one study on consumer habits showed that women purchase over 70% of the self-help parenting books. Women are more likely to seek information on parenting in books, online and with other mothers. So dads, take note, pick up a book to further enhance your parenting skills.
There are so many parenting books on the market that it can be confusing what book to use as a reference! I often get asked my parenting book recommendations, and I would like to share some of my top favorites:
- 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan and a new and updated version released earlier this year, 1-2-3 Magic-a 3-Step Discipline for Calm, Effective and Happy Parenting by Thomas Phelan
- How to Behave So Your Children Will Too by Sal Severe, Ph.D.
- Beyond Time Out: From Chaos to Calm by Beth Grosshans, Ph.D.
9. Understand How Your Childhood Impacts Your Parenting Style. Our first experience with parenting was with our parents when we were growing up. The development of one’s parenting style is influenced and impacted by personal experience. And so, it’s not uncommon to create a parenting style similar to our parents and in many situations, quite different. And to complicate parenting, your sweetie may think the way your in-laws raised children was okay, when you can barely tolerate the idea of how your sweetie was parented growing up. Understanding these influences is another layer of bringing awareness into your day-to-day parenting.
Parenting is an ever-changing process. As your child grows, so to do parents. I don’t know about you, but my parenting style has adapted and changed over time. The more experience I gained, the more was able to navigate and adapt to different parenting situations and the varied personalities of my four daughters. But it wasn’t an easy or smooth road; there was a lot of trial and error, mistakes and conversations with my husband on how to co-parent. We don’t always see a parenting situation the same way, nor do we parent our daughters the exact way. I would describe us as mostly similar in our parenting styles, and when we don’t see a parenting situation the same way, it can create significant stress in our relationship. After a decade plus of co-parenting, we’ve learned the importance of talking it out, respecting each others position, and most importantly, not to let a parenting disagreement stress out our relationship.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2016