How to Resolve Differing Parenting Styles

Differing parenting styles can wreak havoc on a marriage. When I work with couples, this is one of the most common issues. It makes sense. Just imagine how this little other person that suddenly enters your lives changes your relationship! When a married couple becomes a parenting couple, the responsibility is tremendous and it can be an emotional roller coaster ride. After all, parenting decisions are immensely important so, by nature, they are emotionally charged.

The stress of parenting becomes even more difficult when parenting styles differ. He may be more laid back while she is more hands on. She might believe in RIE parenting while her partner subscribes to another philosophy. Then there’s the way we were raised, which has a direct impact on how we choose to parent, and we don’t always agree on the approach.

If parents don’t come to an agreement about parenting styles, differences become liabilities, and divorce can be a real concern down the road. You can see how important it is to deal with this issue sooner rather than later.
Dealing with difficult behavior in children is really challenging, and when parents completely differ in their styles of parenting, the whole family suffers. Parenting differences are not problems that can be ignored even for a little bit. Children require parenting strategies on a daily basis, after all, so parenting issues are always in the forefront. Don’t let it wreck your marriage. Here’s how:

1. Avoid criticizing your partner’s parenting style. Sure you disagree, but if you criticize, you’ll only create more conflict with your partner. Worse yet, you’ll be inviting an ongoing power struggle. That’s terrible for a marriage. Instead, arrange a meeting together to talk about parenting when you are both focused and calm. Talk about why you disagree with each other’s parenting styles and discipline interventions. Discuss your childhoods and how you were both raised. What negatives and positives did you acquire from the way you were parented? What do you want to avoid in your parenting? What do you want to include? Seek to understand in this session rather than to resolve issues. Resolving differences can be tackled in your next meeting.

2. Although you disagree, you shouldn’t let your children have a front row seat to your disagreements. If you do, they will quickly learn how to play one of you against the other to get what they want. If your partner is in the middle of a parenting intervention that you might disagree with (as long as it’s not abusive in any way, of course), let him or her finish it. Discuss your disagreement later after your children are out of the room. Remember to be respectful and have a productive discussion (see #1) rather than an argument that divides you even further.

3. When you have a second session about coming to some resolutions about your parenting styles, start with one or two aspects of parenting and discipline in which you both agree. This common ground will be a positive place to start and will unite you to tackle your differences hand in hand rather than fist to fist.

4. Keep doing what works! Both of you might have really positive strategies that work well with your kids and that align with your values. If you both see that your kids are consistently cooperative and well behaved when you use certain parenting strategies, talk about those results and agree together to use those things that work.

5. When you discuss how to approach discipline in your family, ask each other what you want your children to learn from each corrective experience. This question about discipline will help you both focus on which approaches to use rather than arguing over whose approaches are better. After all, it’s not about winning. This parenting thing is all about helping your children be as prepared as possible when they go out in the world as adults.

Now I want to hear from you. What have been some of your most challenging parenting moments with your spouse in terms of differing parenting philosophies? What has helped you move past differences and towards solutions that work well for your family? Comment in the comments sections below.

And for more resources on parenting and marriage, I recommend The Parenting Skill for specific parenting direction. Elly Taylor’s book Becoming Us is the only complete resource I know and advocate on strengthening a marriage while parenting. And as always, you can work with me or get free marriage help here.