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Let’s be real: co-parenting a child is hard – and that goes even for couples who are still together.
You’re two different people. You might have been raised differently or come from different backgrounds. And that means that you may not always agree on how to parent the child(ren) that you share. So, what can you do when you and your partner/ex disagree about something as important as parenting?
It sucks to be in this position, but it’s really normal. I see a lot of parents in my practice trying to come to an agreement about parenting styles. Maybe you want to try gentle parenting, while your partner/ex prefers a more authoritarian approach. Maybe you’re having disagreements about how much responsibility your children should have around the house, or what type of discipline is the most appropriate.
Some other common parenting disagreements include decisions about bedtime, screen time, what they should eat, religious beliefs and practices, how much money to spend on the kids, and more. There are so many varying expert opinions out there about all of these things. Even if you and your partner/ex have completely opposing views, you could probably both find experts to support you. It’s hard to know who’s “right” in these types of arguments!
But the thing is, it’s not about who’s “right.” And it’s important to deal with different parenting styles in a way that sends the right message to your children. You might have heard the saying that parents need to be a united front or as my pediatrician told me, “kids will learn how to divide and conquer if the parents are on different pages”– and there’s so much truth to this. Consistency is always key when it comes to parenting, and that remains true even if you’re having parenting disagreements.
How to deal with different parenting styles: Do’s and don’ts
This isn’t the ultimate authority on how to navigate this challenge with your partner/ex. You know your relationship much better than I do, and it could be possible that you need a deeper intervention (like mediation or therapy) to come to an agreement.
But, in general, following these do’s and don’ts when dealing with different parenting styles can help you protect both your child’s well-being as well as your relationship dynamic.
1. Do find a compromise, and try different approaches togethers.
Even if you agree only to try something out for a few weeks as an experiment, it’s important that you are unified. For example, let’s say that one parent wants to use grounding as a discipline method while the other doesn’t believe it’s useful. If your child learns that they’ll get grounded by one parent but not the other (for the same misbehavior), then this will cause a lot of confusion for everyone involved. When you agree to try something out, both of you need to back each other up.
2. Don’t argue in front of your child, especially if you know that the argument will cause either one of you to explode.
It’s okay for your child to see that you have disagreements that you work through sometimes. But it’s best that they don’t witness shouting, name-calling, or other ugly things that can come up during parental fights. They also shouldn’t be the decision-maker of who “wins” the argument – for example, don’t ask them their opinion on which parenting style they prefer. Keep it between the grown-ups.
3. Do know that it’s normal to have disagreements about parenting styles. Most couples talk about parenting, at least a little, before they have a baby. But unfortunately, there’s no way to really test parenting styles out until you already have a child. You and your partner/ex don’t have to agree on everything, and this doesn’t have to mean the end of your communication. Many parents work through these disagreements and find some common ground.
4. Don’t make it about proving your partner/ex wrong.
This isn’t about being “right” or “winning” the argument. It’s about doing what’s best for your child – and when arguments like this happen, it’s because both of you want to do right by your child (and you think your way is what’s best). Express concerns rather than trying to win. Explain to your partner/ex why this parenting style or decision is so important to you. If possible, talk about how you were parented, and what you want to do differently (or similarly) to your parents.
5. Don’t make shady comments about your partner/ex to your kids.
You know what I’m talking about – those sly or sarcastic comments that throw your partner/ex under the bus. I get it; it can be hard to bite your tongue sometimes. But kids pick up on more than we think, and can tell when you’re not being genuine. All this does is teach your child that it’s okay to be passive-aggressive and fight “dirty.”
6. Do consider getting outside support.
If you can’t come to an agreement yourselves, then a therapist/religious leader/trusted family member may be able to help. Such individuals, including a couples or parenting therapist can provide a safe, neutral space where you can talk through your disagreements. They could give some education and guidance on what has worked for other parents as well as what the research says about some of the best methods for parenting. They may also help you both find common ground and come to a compromise. Another reality is sometimes parents are overwhelmed and fighting because they don't know how to connect to their child and/or their child has unique needs. Family therapy is another source of support that can help.
Lastly, consider a parent support group. There are so many different types of groups but one that is aimed at helping parents improve their skills of communication and compromise can be beneficial. While I don't work with couples directly, you should know of two groups I am facilitating.
One group is the Single Moms Support Group for Women of Color. This group is for single mothers who identify as a Woman of Color and want to connect with other single moms who understand the hardships of raising a child in a single parent household as well as trying to raise their kids differently than how they were raised. Check it out here.
I'm also excited to announce that open enrollment is starting soon for my Summer Camp for Parents group. This "camp" is an in-person camp for parents of children ages 2-8 who are looking to learn how to play and connect with their child. Camp begins in July and will be held for six sessions in Middlesex, NJ. Click here to learn more and sign up to be notified when enrollment begins. Space is limited to four parents so don't wait!
Thank you for reading!
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