Three Steps to Resolving Parenting Differences

happy mixed race familyAs any couple may surmise, the stress of parenting can put a relationship through the ringer. It is one of the three most-argued topics in couples therapy, the others being finances and sex. Certainly it has an enormous impact on the other two, as the role of changing a two-person dyad of a marriage into a family unit by adding at least one changes the roles involved for everyone, forever. This is the case even if the relationship ends; parenthood endures.

Perhaps traditional marriage vows would be more applicable to the birthing process than to weddings; after all, more than 50% of relationships end in divorce, while parenthood never does. Wouldn’t it be far more applicable to state: “I, (your name), take you, (child’s name), to be my child, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part.” Sadly, not all parents feel this way, though having two active parents in a household can be one of the most concrete determinations in the formation of childhood well-being.

How do parents manage this increasingly difficult terrain? Most systemic therapists, regardless of their specific theoretical background, agree that a home where two parents who can agree and support one another as a unit tend to find more success than a couple who sides with a child over a partner. This is far easier said than done. To support a partner even when he or she is parenting in ways you do not agree with is no easy task. Unless there is an issue with abuse (physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual), it’s important to find a common parenting platform.

Here are some tips to get on the same page with your partner:

  1. Become coaches: In the team that is your family, nothing ensures dysfunction more than leaders who don’t see eye to eye. If a head coach and an assistant coach tell a team opposing directives, it will translate to failure on the field/court/ice. Approach the family in the same way. Communicate with each other about what your goals are. What do you want the kids to learn most? What values are key to you? Are your partner’s goals that different from your own? If they are, is compromise available, or do you need to pick a perspective in a unified way? Having this conversation may be difficult for some couples. Many couples seek premarital counseling or pastoral counseling to address these topics. If having the conversation proves too difficult, seeking a therapist to help navigate these waters may help. It’s never too late.
  2. Come up with a game plan: Just because you and your partner talk about the same ideals does not mean they get communicated the same way. For example, let’s say both parties want to ensure their children are respectful. Respect is a pretty common and universal virtue. How does that message get carried out if the child behaves disrespectfully? Some parents choose to enforce their ideas through discipline—correct behavior that differs from what’s desired. Others want to explain the behavior that’s desired without addressing current behavior. Typically, a mixture of both is most effective, provided that the couple stays consistent and remains unified. This area typically becomes problematic when a couple may agree on values, but not on ways to implement them. One parent who thinks spanking is appropriate while another who does not can create a tremendous amount of discord in the relationship, not to mention confusion among the children when the circumstance triggers an argument over appropriate discipline.
  3. Stay connected: Even the most effectively communicating couples can struggle with parenting over time. Children may respond in a multitude of ways even with solid parenting, and the stressors involved in parenting can take a toll on anyone. Finding relief and getting support from a spouse can prove invaluable. A stay-at-home parent can feel burnt out after a full day of child care while his or her partner works, and may need a respite when the partner gets home. Similarly, the working spouse may need a break from a full work day before jumping straight into child care. An ongoing dialogue about daily needs and mental states helps to provide support when it’s needed for each partner.

While there is no manual on parenting (some books may claim to be, but you’ll have to trust me on this one—I’ve checked), these three key points do make the parenting process a bit easier, dare I even say more tolerable. They may even make parenting more enjoyable.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jeffrey Kaplan, MA, LMFT, therapist in East Setauket, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tara

    Tara

    May 20th, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    It’s hard because there are times when I know we share the same values and want to teach the same life lessons to them but at the same time we may think of very different ways to handle those situations. I am more of a let’s talk it through kind of person whereas he just wants to act, no talk. I think that sometimes as a result the girls feel torn because they are trying to figure out who they are and they see us disagreeing over things and not necessarily putting up that united front that we should and they don’t really know how to process that.

  • Lizzie

    Lizzie

    May 21st, 2014 at 8:19 AM

    It should be imposrtant to you as a parent to remain in tune with your children too. Look at which method they respond to the best, and sometimes this will take you by surprise. Of course they are all going to say that they would like fewer rules but chances are thet they really need the rigidity when it boils down to it. Figure out a way where you can keep the good parts of both parenting styles while weeding out the ones on both sides that don’t really work well for your children. This is not a one size fits all sort of deal. You have to be willing to be fluid and flexible and give your kids what they need, and that is not always going to be as easy as giving them what comes naturally to you.

  • terry

    terry

    May 22nd, 2014 at 3:36 AM

    You do understand that to see eye to eye on parenting or to in any way be able to come up with a compromise means that the marriage or the partnership has to be strong at the core.

    I don’t think that weak mariatl partners will have enough strength in the marriage to talk and work things out without someone getting mad or offended. You have to already be a good partner to your spouse in order to make these kinds of decisions as a parent too.

  • Jeremiah

    Jeremiah

    May 23rd, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    how about this for motivation: you don’t work it out then the marriage will be over because I think that this is actually one of the bigger conflicts that many marriages encounter

  • ashby

    ashby

    May 24th, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Conversations about this topic need to be had before hr wedding or before the children begin to arrive. You might have no idea what your partner thinks about he wants to raise kids until the two of you talk about it, and even though you might agree on so many other things this could be the strwa that will eventually break the camel’s back. Have those talks, these things are so much more important than what you think that they will be. A disagreement over how to raise your children is serious business and not one that will likely go away on its own. You may have to both do a little soul searching and compromise on some things and let others go, but the lives of your children are too important to not come to some agreement over.

  • mike

    mike

    May 26th, 2014 at 5:07 AM

    Having a strong marriage in the first place really helps when it comes to difficualt situations such a s this. If there is already a strong foundation then having these kinds of discussions and problem solving sessions will feel a little bit better than those where there is so much contention and hostility that it never feels like you can work anything out. The moral of the story then is to make sure that the marriage is built on solid ground before you decide to have children with this person.

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