ParenTalk- What to Do When Parenting Styles Clash
A week ago, I got a frantic call from a neighbor who thought she was losing her bond with her child because she wanted to keep him off junk food and sugary treats. It all started with her husband hiding and treating the child with traditional sweets and candies. I advised her to be calm and talk to her husband and she said that she had tried it all. It has come to a point where the child favors the dad more and my friend finds herself arguing with the husband frequently. Sounds relatable?
All of us begin our parenting journey with the expectations of an ideal environment and a happy family. However, a few days into the parenting journey, most of us are in for a surprise when the spouse doesn’t share the same approach as us. And even more, when in-laws, own parents or extended families begins to weigh in. Amidst upbringing style clashes and parenting-related arguments, we often end up wondering if these dilemmas are going to cost us the relationship with our partner and families. Have you also been there? Do you often wonder how to resolve parenting style conflicts without stressing or confusing the kids.? Have you wondered if your relationship with your partner will stay long enough if you keep disagreeing this way?
Here is how to handle parenting style clashes:
- Share childhood experiences with each other: We are mostly instinctive with our parenting approach. Most of it comes from our upbringing. It is a good idea to discuss this early in the parenting journey. Discuss your parents’ parenting approach with each other and how you feel about it. Talk about how their ways shaped you as a person and what would you like to change about it. Listen patiently and empathize with each other. This will help you come up with a unique approach that both of you agree on.
Such discussions could either be a pleasant walk down the memory lane or triggering. Partners walking through these experiences together can be an effective exercise that will bring them on the same page.
Most times both the partners agree that not being respected as a child or repeated episodes of screaming and hitting didn’t make them feel good. Many would argue that they turned out okay. It will take a lot of talking and reading to help them understand how it harmed them or shaped them differently. Both partners need to be patient and open-minded while discussing these aspects.
- Accept that there will always be conflicts and learn to manage them: Remember that both of you are different people from different backgrounds and styles of upbringing. Accept that there will be clashes so you are not in for a shock when they surface. Learn to work around the conflicts without sending mixed messages to the child. Poorly managed parenting clashes may make the child prefer one parent over the other to get what they want. Both parents must discuss their reasons for a response they prefer to a particular situation and both of them can reach a sort of compromise. One thing to remember is to talk about the situation at hand and not bring in issues from the past. Also, remember that these discussions are not to get your way. Listen to your partner carefully and value their opinion and methods as well. Apart from helping you to parent better, this will also model mutual respect and proper conflict management behavior for your child.
- Discuss and come up with strategies: Talk and decide age-appropriate rules for the house. Rules need not be anything complex. Simple rules like no hitting, writing only on paper, etc. can help both of you convey a consistent message to the child. If one parent allows free scribbling on walls and floors and the other emphasizes using papers, it will confuse the child. Also, once the child knows the expected behavior, they would mostly comply. Discussing common scenarios and strategizing with your partner beforehand will help you avoid disagreements in front of the child. On issues where the both of you do not agree at all, try and find a middle ground. For instance, if one parent is ok with junk food and the other wants to ban it completely, parents can decide a reasonable frequency and amount and convey it to the child as well.
- Be a team: Both of you do not need to speak the same words or follow the same ways, but you can always be a team. Different ways of interacting with the children will make them more flexible. They will also learn that both parents are individuals with different opinions and methods but are working towards a common goal. Discuss the environment you want in the home and come up with common goals and family rules. Talk about how you will handle certain aspects or challenges. Do not make parenting a competition but a team activity. For instance, both my husband and I lack patience, but follow the no-screaming rule with the kids. While he controls his impulse and stays quiet when the situation seems to be escalating, I take a deep breath and try to talk at the same time. He thinks I don’t give the child any space and I think his approach is indifferent. However, we are still meeting our common goal by not being rude or disrespectful. It is important to discuss conflicts later when the child is not around, rather than overwhelming them with conflicting opinions. Do not undermine each other in front of the kids.
- Learn together, grow together: We are all new to parenting and none of us knows everything. It is a good idea to join parenting forums and read parenting books together. Discuss approaches and their impact in general rather than being reactive parents. Talk about situations that an acquaintance may be facing and think how you’d be responding to a similar situation.
Important points to remember that will make conflict management easier:
- It is not about winning or losing but helping the child
- Be consistent with your common parenting plan to avoid confusing the child
- Be available for the children irrespective of your differences in opinion
- Do not let anger ruin the situation
- Apologize in front of the children, if you lose cool in front of them
- Communication and compromises will go a great way in ensuring a healthy atmosphere at home
- Be attentive to your child’s needs and personality before coming up with a stringent approach as different children have different needs
The relationship between spouses may suffer because of parenting clashes; communicate more and compromise when required to strike a balance between relationships. If, despite trying it all, you do not seem to agree upon anything and the home environment is suffering; it is wise to reach out to a family therapist and work together to resolve it.