When you and your partner have different parenting styles

Do you and your partner have different parenting styles? Don't fret. Psychotherapist Liza Finlay lays out the do's and don'ts.

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Little Grace pushes her plate away, puckers up in her best pout and says, “I’m full. I don’t want to eat any more.” Dad crosses his arms across his chest, knits his brows and replies, “You’ll finish what’s on your plate or there will be no dessert.” And then, for good measure, he adds, “And no TV either.” Mom, upset by her mate’s my-way-or-the-highway stance, attempts to soften the blow on Little Grace by interjecting with the following: “She’s eaten almost everything. Close enough. Don’t be such a bully.” “Bully?” sputters hubby, incredulously, “You’ve got to be kidding me! You are such a pushover!”

The less-than idyllic family-dinner scene devolves from there.

Sound familiar?

Differing parenting styles can put a huge strain on a marriage. Well, actually, it’s not the diverging styles that create the strain, it’s the meaning we attach to the divergence. But there are other, more useful ways to look at it. Here are the rules of the road when dealing with different parent styles:

1. Don’t judge

We all come by our parenting styles honestly. It’s an innate part of our history. Chances are, if your own parents were authoritarian, you’ll respond by being somewhat permissive; and if you were raised in a house with no rules or limits, you might veer towards a tightened grip on the reins. That parenting pendulum swing is natural and innate. No one is to blame for it.

2. Don’t take it personally

An illustration of a couple competing on a game show called First Year Feuds 10 things you and your spouse will definitely fight about in your baby's first yearWe have a tendency to make everything about us. But, as neuropsychologist Rick Hanson puts it, “We are just bit players in other people’s dramas.” His tendency to hand out time-outs is not necessarily a statement about your lax ways. Her hovering over homework isn’t compensating for what she perceives as your neglect. You could choose to make this fight personal, but don’t. Instead, choose to accept that she’s operating from within her own worldview—and so are you.

3. Don’t sweat it so much

Sure, it would be fabulous if you two had the same parenting style, but it’s not essential. What’s more important is that your kids learn that they count on each of you to be consistent. Then, they’ll adapt.

4. Do grow together

Parenting is not intuitive, it’s learned. So take a class together, or at a minimum read a parenting book together. (My favourite is Honey, I Wrecked The Kids by Alyson Schafer.) The goal is not to become parenting clones, but rather to create a parenting paradigm that’s like a Venn diagram—with ample difference and adequate overlap.

5. Do allow the person who starts the discipline to finish it

You don’t get to run the world, just your part of it—and you don’t get to run the kids’ relationship with their dad, just your own. You may be dead certain that his approach will backfire, but keep it to yourself. That’s up to him and the kids to figure out. (And besides, you may be surprised.)

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