At last count, the internet has provided us with roughly eight million different parenting styles. You’ve probably noticed different parenting styles even among your own friends. Is it any wonder, with so many opinions and philosophies, that two people who share a home and children might also disagree on the best parenting approach?
Marriage is tricky enough without kids. As soon as you add little people to your family, the trickiness is off the charts. Now, not only are you figuring out how best to communicate with your partner and enjoy life, you also have to work together to raise these tiny utterly dependant humans! A lot of couples, including Tony and I, are unaware of the kinds of parents they will be until after the children have arrived. I always thought I’d be the strict enforcer and Tony would be the fun one. It turns out I’m the snuggler, Tony is the fun one, and we BOTH have to be the enforcers when it comes to discipline and handling behavior. Only, we don’t always agree on how to handle the kids.
What I want to share with you is less about the best way to parent and more about how your parenting affects your marriage. Let’s talk about the two of you! Because, above all, the way you treat each other and communicate about parenting can either have a positive or a negative effect on your relationship with each other. It’s your relationship with each other, not the way you parent, that will have the most profound effect on your children’s lives. These are the things Tony and I keep in mind when we disagree about parenting.
4 Ways to Handle Parenting Disagreements
1. Let your partner parent.
One of the hardest things to do when you disagree about parenting is to step back and let your partner BE a parent. But, unless something terribly unsafe or abusive is happening, that is exactly what we need to do. Think back to your own childhood. Did your mom and dad handle every situation in the exact same way? Probably not. And, look at you now, handling life EVEN THOUGH your parents parented differently.
When our oldest was just a toddling two and a half year old, Tony brought home some small firecrackers from a little pop-up stand around the corner from our house. Fourth of July was coming up and, since he’s the fun parent, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when he showed me his loot. Of course I piped up just a little, “Honey, I don’t think this is a good idea. Claire is two. This really doesn’t seem safe.”
How did he respond? “Babe! It’s fine. I’ve got this.”
So, I was inside the house tending to our infant while Tony went out to the driveway to light off these little firecrackers. I could see a little bit from the front window, but I was really trying not to hover. I snuggled the baby and reminded myself, He’s a good dad. He’s a good dad. He’s a good dad. They’re fine.
The next thing I knew, the front door flung open and in came Tony carrying a screaming little Claire. My heart sank! She’d gotten too close and got a tiny burn on her hand. He rushed her to the bathroom. I grabbed an ice pack and followed him in where he was washing her hand and applying some cooling gel. He was handling it. She was fine. I nearly passed out from the stress, but I kept the I-told-ya-so’s to myself.
Letting your partner parent is not easy but it is vital. Practicing stepping back is about seeing parenting as a long game and not about just this one particular instance in which you would be doing things in a different way… the right way. The truth is that we need to see our differences in parenting simply as differences and not as wrong ways and right ways.
In the long game, the two of you need to be a team in all aspects of your marriage, and that includes parenting. Undermining your partner by stepping in and interrupting a parenting moment is not only disrespectful, it also communicates distrust. Nobody performs at their best when they feel that they aren’t trusted and will be undermined for their efforts anyway. So, if something is happening in a way that you don’t necessarily agree with, take a step back. Pause. Remind yourself that it’s better for the kids and for your relationship to let the situation play itself out. And if your husband burns your baby’s hand, that too will be a situation that you can handle together, hopefully without passing out.
2. Practice the “Same Team Mentality” in front of the kids.
Smart parents know that kids will do what it takes to get their way. Pitting one parent against the other is a classic move. Kids don’t even need to be taught! They come out of the womb knowing that mom responds differently to a sweet snuggle and a smile before they ask for what they want than dad will. They know which is more likely to sneak some chocolate into their lunch (DAD!) and which is more likely to read one more little book even though it’s 20 minutes past bedtime (MOMMY!). Nobody told them. They just know.
Look, I may not like the extra sugar in her lunch and Tony may not like that bedtime should have been over by now, but in front of the kids we are on the same team. If dad says no, mom says no. So, in order to have the upper hand with these tiny master manipulators we’ve developed a new response…
“Have you already asked Daddy about that? What did Daddy say?” (and vice versa)
With the same team method, whichever parent gave the first response to the request is the parent that leads that situation. Sometimes the kids forget that their main objective is to divide and conquer, so they’ll ask one parent in front of the other. When that happens, we openly discuss in front of the kids what we each think about it and come to an agreement together.
“I really don’t like Claire to have chocolate at school.” – Mom, obviously
“I like the idea that she’s got a little treat with her lunch.” – Dad, the fun guy
“Sure, I get that. Let’s just not make it a daily lunch habit.”
“Great. Maybe once a week or so, she’ll get an extra little treat. Claire, what do you think?”
Not only does this method save a ton of arguments between the two of you, it’s a fantastic chance to model what teamwork looks like for your kids. They can see that we disagree and that we’re willing to talk it out and work toward a solution together.
3. Talk about differences away from the kids.
If you’re letting your partner be a parent, and practicing the same team mentality in front of the kids, you may still find yourself frustrated over something your partner has done. The best thing to do is to wait until the kids aren’t around to bring it up. Then, when you bring it up, don’t forget all of the problem solving skills you already know:
♥ Start kindly and respectfully.
♥ Name what specifically happened.
♥ Name how you feel about it.
♥ Present what you think would have been a better method.
♥ Remain open to their perspective.
♥ Remind yourselves that you’re on the same team.
It could look something like this…
“I love that you want to do fun things and make fun memories with our kids. But, when you took Claire out there to light fireworks, I felt scared and frustrated. I was afraid something bad would happen, and I was frustrated that it seemed like you ignored me when I mentioned it. I wish you would have listened to me, or that we could have waited until I didn’t have my hands full with the baby so I could be out there to keep Claire away from the flames while you lit things on fire.”
4. Get a third-party perspective.
So far, we’re just talking about parenting instances. But, if you feel like you are having disagreements about parenting overall and not just in one situation or another, it’s time to bring in some perspective. All of those eight million different parenting styles come with eight million different websites, books, and seminars. One of the best ways to stay on the same team is to grab one of these resources, read it (or watch it or listen to it) together, and then discuss how you each feel about it.
Having an article to consider together is a great buffer because it takes the discussion out of the “me vs. you” state and puts you in an “us + new information” state. Instead of feeling attacked and criticized for the way you do things, now you can explore someone else’s thoughts and methods on parenting and make some decisions together. It’s not about your way vs. my way. Instead it’s about discovering our way.
Just remember, if this is the method you choose, you’ll still want to introduce it in a way that is kind and respectful and doesn’t make your spouse feel accused of doing something wrong.
What I mean is… and I’ve said this on our Facebook page before… do not simply tag your spouse on an article you want them to read or send them a forward without any explanation. When you don’t include a comment to give context as to WHY you are tagging your partner or sending them an article, they could easily feel accused of having done something wrong. So, if you’re going to share something for your partner to read or listen to so that you can discuss it later, be thoughtful in how you share it with them.
Here are some quick options…
“Hey babe, let’s read this and talk about it later…”
“This article made me grateful for the way we do things in our marriage. I thought you might like it.”
“This article has some great ideas. I’d love to know what you think.”
Marriage and parenting really are a ton of work, as are most worthwhile endeavors. At the end of the day, whether you do everything exactly the same or not, the most important thing is to honor and respect each other and work out your solutions as a team. Stepping in, undermining, and rudely disagreeing with your partner in front of your kids can be really damaging to your kids and also to your own relationship. Be patient with each other, practice the same team mentality, present a united front with the kids, and #staymarried.
Now, for those parenting resources I promised you…
Brain Rules for Baby by Dr. John Medina and Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow are the two books I recommend most often. They both thoroughly changed the way I parent, giving me insight based on scientific research, and practical steps I could take right away. If I’ve been to your baby shower in the last 4 years, chances are I gave you one or both of these books. I love them!
I can’t even believe I waited until the end of this post to tell you that, for all of our email subscribers, I get to GIVE THESE BOOKS TO YOU! Both books! In audio book format, because who has time to read! Ordinarily that would be a $40 value, but the people at Libro.fm have generously offered #staymarried Subscribers FREE downloads of both!
Enter your name and email address to receive both of these parenting resources, a $40 value, as our gift to you!
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