Do you have a more strict or more laid back parenting style than your partner? . . . Great! Our marriage panel is taking on the question of how to blend different parenting styles.
This month’s theme is parenting TOGETHER.
Last week I gave you permission to prioritize your spouse over your children.
This week, we’ve got our amazing marriage panel answering the question of how to agree on parenting tactics? Hope you enjoy their wisdom as much as I did!
“I would love to pick your panel’s mind about how to blend very different parenting styles.
My spouse’s idea of a “good” parent would be very strict, authoritarian, my child must accomplish x, y, and z at any cost.
My idea of a “good” parent is much more laid back. I’d rather parent from the sidelines, let them do their thing and let them fail.
We butt heads a lot. My spouse wishes I would do more and I wish he would do much less.
I think other people have this problem, but we rarely talk about it.
My kids are young now, but I’m so nervous for when they get older. I just see my spouse and I butting heads more and more when bigger problems are at stake.”
Your reader is right that other people have this problem – it is not just a disagreement between her and her husband. It is a global debate between preferred parenting styles across differing cultures! Witness two of the most popular Saturday Essays ever published in the Wall Street Journal, one week apart from each other, in January 2011:
Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior (or “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”)
In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom
If you read both articles (and I would highly suggest you do), I would wager your husband will identify with many points in the first, while you will resonate with many points in the second. And then what would I conclude?
There is no one best way to be a parent!
I teach business management to university undergrads for a living. One of our key topics is leadership. Early theories and research on leadership in the 1950s-1960s were based on this question – what is the one best way to be a leader? What are the common behaviors that all great leaders have? The trouble was that they couldn’t find evidence that there was one best way to be a leader. Later research suggests that the right leadership approach depends on the situation. Some people need a really hands-on approach where they are told strictly what to do. Others need a more stepped-back approach where the leader is there more as a support. A lot of it has to do with the maturity, readiness, ability, and confidence of the people to take responsibility for things.
I’m not suggesting that families are run like businesses. But it’s not a stretch to say parents are leading their children. And it’s not a stretch to say there is no one right parenting style. What will be “good” will depend on the child and the situation.
I think the first thing that will help this couple is to drop the notion that either of them has the right parenting style. The second thing to help them will be for them to develop a way to discuss for a particular situation and a particular child, what type of parenting do they need at the moment? They might talk about, for a particular situation, how mature does their child seem to be? Are they ready, able, and confident to take something on? Then you might adopt a little bit more stepped-back approach where you let the child figure things out. Does the child seem insecure, unsure, and unable to take something on? Then you might adopt a little bit more hands-on approach where you will direct the child exactly what to do and how. The approach you take will differ depending on the child, and can change for a specific child depending on the situation. On some things we have been really strict with our children. On other things we have just kind of let them go.
Finally, it’s okay to recognize that any specific parenting choice may not work out immediately – it will take some flexibility and experimenting until you find what’s working. And what’s working now may have to change later. But what has to be key is that as a couple you drop the notion that either one will always be right, and instead develop a way of talking about what approach you are willing to try for a particular situation.
I love how you put the word “good” in quotes. I think that is really the answer to your question.
I think that the biggest thing to remember is that it is not at all necessary for you and your spouse to have the same parenting style. You can be quite different and yet still work together in harmony and unity as long as you both agree on parenting goals and overall messages. Talk about how you want your kids to feel while they’re in your home. Talk about what things you would like them to be able to do. Talk about big milestones coming up in their lives and the support they will need. Talk about your fears for them. The times I am most grateful that I am not a single parent are not when I need back up on discipline, but when my heart is worried or breaking for my kids and my husband is there, loving our little people just as much as me.
My husband needs a lot of personal space and alone time. A lot of times he is impatient with our kids when they encroach on that. I breaks my heart when he snaps at them when all they want is some attention from the father that they love. We used to talk about it but the only result was him feeling guilty and inadequate. Then he started trying to just force himself to let them be with him when he really needed some space. This didn’t work either.
Finally I started saying, “I just don’t want them to feel like we don’t like them or we don’t want them around.” Something clicked inside his head. My husband has gotten so good at spending individualized time with each of our children. It still makes me cringe when he snaps at them, but I no longer fear that they feel like we don’t like them or that we don’t want them around. They key for us getting to a place of unity was recognizing what our underlying desires for our kids were.
One thing I learned pretty fast as a junior high school teacher is that two teachers can do the exact same things and have very different results. You have to be true to yourself in order to reach kids. It is so important to parent from a place of sincerity and authenticity. It makes it impossible to do that if you are constantly worried about judgement from your spouse. You want to help each other become the best parents you can be, not turn your spouse into a parenting clone of yourself.
Sometimes I tell myself, “you don’t need to be involved in this conversation” when my husband is talking to my kids and he is saying something that I wish he wouldn’t. My husband is entitled to his own relationship with his children that is not facilitated, supervised or policed by me. Will he screw it up? Of course he will. I will also make mistakes. That’s what parenting is, its screwing up your kids in your own special little way. Give each other grace as you figure it out. As Celeste often talks about on the blog, forgive!
Obviously there are times, especially as your kids grow and you need to implement some more serious consequences, when you both need to be on the same page. This should occur in conversations that cannot be overheard by your children. I would also recommend never telling your kids anything that ends with “but don’t tell your dad,” or vice versa. Kids won’t bat an eyelash if you have different parenting styles but they will definitely pick up on tension or conflict between the two of you.
I would also suggest reading parenting books together. My husband and I occasionally have a little parenting book club where we’ll read a book on our own and talk about what it says. Keep in mind that everything in parenting books is a suggestion and don’t get to hung up on implementing every little thing. We read Love and Logic together once and my husband latched on to the idea of giving choices. It really works with his parenting style, he does it way better than I do. If your spouse is parenting in a way that he or she doesn’t like then believe that they can change! Your belief in them and their ability to be a good parent can be so powerful.
As a caveat if you feel that your spouse is being abusive emotionally or physically then all bets are off and that needs to be addressed. Wikipedia defines it as follows: Emotional abuse of a child is commonly defined as a pattern of behavior by parents or caregivers that can seriously interfere with a child’s cognitive, emotional, psychological, or social development. If you feel like you need to talk to you spouse about this then you should definitely seek counsel from a qualified third party such as an ecclesiastical leader or family therapist.
“I think other people have this problem, but we rarely talk about it.”
That’s the line that stuck out to me. Communication is key to any successful relationship, but when you throw kids in the equation, communication becomes even more vital. A lack of communication breeds misunderstandings, resentment and lots of hurt feelings. Nobody wants that.
We are a military family, and so my husband is frequently gone for weeks or months at a time. We do our best to keep him as involved in the kids’ lives as possible, but the fact is, whenever he gets home from a deployment/training, things have changed. Anything from the kids’ favorite shows to how we (I) discipline is subject to change while he’s away. So when he comes home and does things how we were doing them when he left, I get frustrated because he’s “messing it up.” We’ve learned that we have to talk about evvvvvverything when he gets home, just so we can be on the same page with the kids.
Honestly, we probably wouldn’t be having these conversations if he were home all the time. We would probably just be going around, getting frustrated with each other’s parenting approaches, but never really doing anything to address it. our particular situation has taught me a lot about how much i need to have his particular style of parenting to balance mine. I can see it in the kids when he’s gone; they need his approach too. Sometimes he is able to get through to a kid when i can’t. Sometimes he thinks of things that would never have crossed my mind, but that prove to be real game changers.
You are absolutely not alone in being frustrated with a spouse’s different parenting approaches. I don’t know any parent who doesn’t face this in some form or fashion. and it’s fine to disagree! I think it’s healthy to have things you disagree on; i can’t imagine always agreeing with someone on every last thing. The important thing is to talk about it. Identify what works or doesn’t work with each of your approaches, and find a way to mesh them together. But if you never talk about it, you’ll always be frustrated with each other.
- Know that there is no one best way to parent.
- Realize that different parenting styles can be a blessing to your kids!
- Work together for common goals and values
- Communicate lovingly about what is working and what is not.
Thanks panel for another awesome discussion!
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