What to do When Parenting Styles Clash

Last week we discussed the 4 parenting styles based off of the work of Drs. John and Julie Gottman. What happens when your style of parenting differs from that of your partner or co-parent? What affects does this have on your child?

Gottman’s four parenting styles are dismissing, disapproving, laissez-faire, and emotion coach.  Today, we will discuss steps to take if parenting styles clash. 

Kyle Pruett, a clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine says, “different parenting styles aren’t necessarily something to worry about.” In fact, differences in a relationship are often seen as something negative, but they actually can serve a great purpose. They can deepen our empathy, respect, communication skills, and our resolve. Still, it’s hard to deal when your partner seems to contradict every decision you make.

Bringing two people with different stories and different families together to form a new family does not come without stumbling blocks. Couples rarely talk about these differences before having children because it simply doesn’t occur to them. So, when parenting styles begin to clash, problems often arise. 

It stands to reason that in order to build a strong, connected family, couples must take the initiative to reconcile their differences regarding parenting and family values. While discrepancies in parenting styles may remain, to reconcile them means to come to a compromise on practices that both are comfortable with.

It’s best to talk things out in private.

1. Create physical and emotional safety

  • The research has made clear what we already know: a compromise can’t be reached until both parties feel safe both physically and emotionally. 
  • Compromises cannot be reached in the heat of a disagreement. Both brains must be calm and receptive, and you should use positive communication skills. 
  • Couples should have a chat that is not accusatory, but simply explains how they felt when the incident occurred. Keep in mind, babies as young as three months old can sense tension between their parents.

2. How you were parented can have a big impact on how you parent and how you interact with your spouse, who may have been raised very differently. 

  • However, just because you were raised one way, it doesn’t mean you have to parent that way. 
  • The first step is self-reflection. When you can make sense of your own lives then you can build on the positive experiences you have and move beyond the limitations of your past.
  • Understanding where you and your partner come from and having a willingness to compromise on differing values can make all the difference.
  • Plus, if parents are able to be self-aware of their own emotions and why they act the way they do, it helps promote healthy development and self-understanding in the child. 

3. Start this discussion by defining your core needs.

  • What is your stake in the ground- What are you absolutely not willing to compromise on because it is just too important to you?
  • Hold your ground on your strong values and be flexible everywhere else you can possibly be.

4. Be willing to accept influence from your partner.

  • You have to be willing to hear your partner’s side of the issue. 
  • Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something. 
  • The important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored.

5. Have an honest and open conversation with your partner where you each state your parenting beliefs, goals, and ideals.

  • Name your stake in the ground and allow your partner to do the same. 
  • Discuss your childhoods and where your beliefs came from. Talk about what they mean to you and what you fear will happen if you bend.
  • Some important questions to answer together include:
    • I feel that you are a good parent because ____.
    • I feel that my role as a parent is to ___.
    • My parents were ___ and I feel that was ___.
    • Discipline means ___.
    • It’s most important to me for my child to be ___.
    • My goal in raising my child is ___.

6. Finally, create a plan of action for common behavior problems that your children are experiencing. By doing so, you have both agreed upon how you will handle each situation and you will be united in front of your children.

Parenting styles may differ, and it does not have to be detrimental to your child or the relationship. By creating safety, being willing to explore your backgrounds, and discussing them honestly with your partner, you can both maintain your stake in the ground while bridging a compromise of your parenting styles.

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