Are you throwing up your hands in despair because it seems like you and your partner are constantly fighting about how to raise your kids? If it’s not about what to feed them, then it’s about their sleeping routines and of course how to discipline them… Who would have thought that all these details would suddenly become so important and frustrating? Before your babies arrived, none of this mattered much and you somehow thought you would both take parenthood in your strides, crossing the bridges when you came to them and carrying onwards and upwards as before. Well, as the saying goes: “Welcome to parenthood!”
For most of us the only firsthand experience we really have of parenting comes from the way our own parents treated us. Instinctively we may slip into the same methods and styles of our forebears – or we may have a knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction. And then of course there are our own quirks and personality traits which come into play – times two, for both of you! So no wonder it’s not smooth sailing all the way!
If you and your partner are struggling to come to terms with your different parenting styles, you may find these seven pointers and tips helpful:
1. Know that it’s normal
Sometimes when you are in the thick of things, pacing the floor at 3am with a crying baby over your shoulder, it can easily feel like yours is the most difficult marriage ever. Thoughts like “what is wrong with us, why can’t we just get along and be normal” may come flooding into your heart and mind. The good news is that struggles and fights are a very normal part of even the healthiest marriages, because it is impossible to blend two completely different individuals into one marriage without at least a few sparks here and there. The issue is not whether there are differences, but rather how you work through them.
At this point it needs to be noted that if there is any form of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, spiritual or financial) or addictions in your marriage then that is not normal, and you need to find help as soon as possible from a professional counsellor, therapist or emergency hotline. The rest of this article is addressed to those parents who are both open to change and actively working on their parenting styles together.
2. Remember you are on the same team
When you are going through stressful times with parenting, you may find yourselves feeling almost as if you are competing with one another. Each of you may be desperately trying to ‘win’ the argument and prove that your parenting style is the best. This is when you need to step back a bit and remember that you are both on the same team – there is no competition to win. You were both winners when you married each other, and now you need to focus on going forward together hand in hand as you love and teach your little ones what life is all about.
3. Get to know where you are both coming from
As mentioned already, the kind of upbringing you and your spouse had will have a significant impact on the way you approach your parenting role. So get to know each other’s backgrounds. Talk about your family history and the beliefs and values that are deeply rooted from your childhood. Perhaps then it will be easier to understand some of those puzzling and frustrating perspectives which your spouse holds onto so tightly. Once you understand each other you may not be so critical and resentful of the other’s parenting style which differs from yours. As you share your thoughts and feelings, you can help each other to see how things which worked back then might be slightly different now.
4. Take time to talk it through- just the two of you
One of the easiest mistakes to make is to argue with each other in front of your children. Little ones are very quick to pick up when mom and dad don’t agree. And when there is open conflict it gives them mixed messages which can lead to confusion and insecurity. Older children are also very adept at manipulating a situation and playing their parents off against each other. It is much better to take the time to talk things through when the two of you can be alone together. Then when you are with the children they can see that you are supporting one another and that you are united in your role as parents.
5. Find a solution
Solution is a better word than ‘compromise’ – essentially it means finding a way forward that works for both of your parenting styles, and for your child. What if you can’t bear to think of your child eating unhealthy junk foods every day, but your spouse loves to spoil the kids with treats and snacks? Maybe you can agree on a special treat day only once a week, perhaps over the weekend, and the keep the rest of the week healthy. Or maybe you feel your spouse is too demanding with the children, picking on them for every little thing. Talk it through and decide on which demeanours are worth confronting and which aren’t. In other words, choose your battles.
6. Persevere for the long haul
Remember parenthood is a long distance marathon – not a short sprint. Prepare and pace yourself for the long haul. Persevere through the rain because there will be plenty of sunny days too. Enjoy every phase and season of your children’s lives because they pass so quickly. Babyhood may feel like a lifetime, but before you know it they will be crawling and then running off to preschool, and then high school. So be encouraged as you work through your different parenting styles and see your differences as an advantage, with each style complementing the other. Also remember that your children are learning valuable lessons from both of you as they observe and experience your unique parenting styles.
7. Get help if necessary
If you find over time that you are just not managing to work through your differences, and parenthood is driving a wider and wider wedge between you and your spouse, please don’t hesitate to get help. There is plenty of help available, so don’t struggle on alone. Rather find a counsellor or therapist who can help you both to rekindle and restore the love and joy you once enjoyed together. Once you two are on the same page again you will be able to parent together, loving, teaching and nurturing your kids the way the need and deserve to be parented, regardless of your individual styles.