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How to Navigate Different Parenting Styles

Parents walking and holding hands with their child, swinging him between them.

Disagreements over parenting style can make the already stressful job of parenting even trickier. Here’s how to navigate parenting styles with your partner.

Even if you take classes, read books, and discuss parenting techniques with your partner in advance, you may be surprised how you each react to your kids in the moment, especially during difficult times. If you struggle to see eye-to-eye on critical issues, don’t worry. We’ve got some tips to help you navigate these differences.

Being exposed to different parenting styles can be confusing to kids. They see their parents fighting, failing to agree on issues, and are left feeling unsure about who’s right or wrong. But if you can learn to work together and respect each other’s approach, you will show your kids it’s possible to coexist with conflicting beliefs—which is a great lesson to share.

We’re here to help you understand, support, and recognize each other’s assets so you can successfully work as a team.

What’s Your Parenting Style?

First, we suggest sitting down with your partner and reviewing your current parenting styles. You might not know what they are, and that’s okay. But talking it through will shed light on what each person’s natural tendencies are when it comes to interacting with the kids.

Make sure you talk about how your parents raised you. What did you each see that worked? What didn’t you like or what seemed ineffective? Often, we follow blindly in the footsteps of our parents, not pausing to consider if it’s the most effective approach. What worked for the past generation might not be applicable today.

Spend some time defining your core values. Often a couple will both want the same things for their children, but they end up disagreeing on how to implement them. By understanding your ultimate goals, you can learn to support each other’s approaches.

Always Work as a Team

Even if you differ on issues, you always want to work together as a unit. This means listening to the other parent, supporting them in their decisions, and never degrading them in front of the children.

If one parent decides to take away screen time due to misbehavior, support that parent in that moment. If you think their decision was too harsh, discuss it later, away from the children. You can always suggest an alternative to try in the future. But stopping their process midway will send mixed signals to the kids, ultimately undermining the disciplinary work of the other parent.

Avoid venting about your partner’s failings when your children are around. Even though you may have conflicting opinions and ideas, you want always to have each other’s back. Otherwise, your children will quickly learn how to manipulate the situation and work the two of you against each other to get their way.

When to Be Firm vs. When to Relax

There may be specific issues you are 100% certain about implementing. For example, one parent might have a really firm stance about something, like co-sleeping, or whether children should be required to finish their dinner, or at what age they should have a phone or social media account.

Start by listening to each other’s perspectives. Question where this belief comes from. Do you or your partner believe it’s the most effective approach to parenting? Is it familiar because that was how things were done in your partner’s home growing up? In the case of technology-related stuff, is he or she adopting a stance driven more by fear of what’s been in the news or more by research on the topic?

See if you can arrive at a compromise. For instance, instead of forcing a child to sit at the table until they finish the food on their plate, perhaps you could serve them smaller portions and instruct them to only ask for more if they are really hungry. This way, no food is wasted, and the parent that values the “clean plate club” approach to dinner time will, indeed, see a clean plate.

Address whether the issue is worth creating tension between you and your partner. For example, one parent might forget to brush your toddler’s teeth when they do the bedtime routine. If they only do the bedtime routine once in a while, it’s probably best to let it go. If they do it every night, then yes, it’s worth discussing.

Focus on What’s Best for Your Child

A lot of times, we stumble blindly through parenthood, not sure which approach is best. Should we be more firm? Less firm? It can be very overwhelming, especially with multiple children who seem to respond to different forms of discipline.

Keep asking yourself, “Is this the best approach for my child? Will she benefit from this?” Keep in mind that something that works for one child might not work for another.

Children don’t have to have identical relationships with their parents, either. It’s okay to be different. If one parent is better at helping with homework and the other is better at disciplinary action, then go with it. Use those assets to your advantage, as they both benefit the child.

When kids see their parents working through their differences together, with a balance of compromise, flexibility, and understanding, they learn how to navigate this world and all the complex people in it.

Include the Kids

Even though you don’t want to include your kids in your actual arguments about parenting styles, you can include them in a healthy discussion about establishing rules and how to improve the overall family dynamic. You can do this by having regular family meetings or open communication during mealtimes.

For example, you could ask questions like, “What do you think should happen if someone in this house doesn’t finish their homework before bedtime?” Listen to each child’s opinion and write down their thoughts. Make sure they know the final decision is up to their parents, but make them feel heard in the process. This will help them understand the consequences and feel like they’ve contributed to defining the rules.

This way, when a parent says, “You didn’t finish your homework so now XYZ will happen,” the child will be prepared because it was discussed during the family meeting. Placing some of the decision-making power in the child’s hands also alleviates pressure on parents to come up with all the rules.

When to Get Help

There’s no shame in reaching out for help. It’s best to get help before your relationship is buckling under the stress from too many heated arguments.

You can start by reading parenting books, taking classes together, or finding articles that support your different parenting decisions. Be open to hearing your partner’s perspective, especially if it’s about something important to him.

If you’re struggling to co-parent in a peaceful, supportive, understanding manner, then it may be time to reach out to a counselor. Plenty of people bring parenting issues to the table during marriage or family therapy sessions, so you’re certainly not alone.

Navigating parenthood is tough. Considering and incorporating each other’s ideas, values, and differing parenting styles can test a relationship. However, it’s important for your children to see each of you expressing your differences in a supportive and loving way. So, we say embrace it all—it’s what makes your family unique.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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