Parenting Together When You Can't Agree on a Parenting Style

Opposing parenting styles aren't uncommon, but they can certainly cause problems. Here are some simple ways partners can work through this parenting hiccup.

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Before having children, I dreamt about my ideal of motherhood. I had my style and rules for how I'd want to raise my kids all set to go. But in all my planning, I made one mistake: I forgot to consider my husband.

Now that we have two girls, we've realized that our parenting styles often clash. I believe in having the bassinet by the bed for the entire first year, and he prefers the baby in her own bedroom as soon as possible. I have stricter rules around meals and snacks, and he is the "candy man." Some days, it can get testy as we struggle to see eye to eye.

Disagreement Is Normal

We are far from the only couple to go through this. Take Anna and William, a New Jersey couple who prefers not to give their last name, has always enhanced each other through their unique personality differences. But once they had two little girls of their own, his authoritarian parenting started to cause friction in the home.

"He wants two toddlers to be quiet and perfect all the time. It's just unrealistic—they're toddlers! And I'm supposed to enforce these rules that I just don't agree with, so we are very inconsistent," says Anna. As for how they resolve their differences? "We try our best not to argue in front of the kids and resolve it in private," says Anna. "That helps, but we could use more tools to help with our inconsistencies."

Unfortunately, we don't get to test drive how our parenting styles will match up before babies arrive. That said, it's also important to know that you don't have to be in total agreement on how to raise kids to be successful at parenting either.

Here are six things experts say partners can do to work together during these challenging moments.

Be Clear About Your Parenting Style

Even though couples don't need to align, as individuals, it is helpful to become aware of your parenting styles and what beliefs and habits you each bring from your childhood homes. Then you can deliberately decide how you wish to parent.

"The parents I work with may have been raised in one style and want to adapt," says Elaine Taylor-Klaus, a certified professional coach for parents of complex children and CEO of Impact Parents. What worked in the past may no longer be best for your family. "Children today need parents who will communicate more consciously and collaboratively," adds Taylor-Klaus.

Don't Criticize Each Other in Front of the Kids

If you witness your partner behaving in a way that is contrary to how you'd react, choose to let it go until you can talk one-on-one, suggests Bonnie Harris, M.S. Ed., a specialist in parenting and child behavior based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, who regularly addresses the issue of different parenting styles with struggling couples. Your children shouldn't witness parental disputes. It's also beneficial for the relationship to avoid spotlighting the other parent in a critical light.

Use a Catchphrase When Help Is Needed

Treading on your partner's toes in the middle of disciplining can lead to resentment later. However, your partner may genuinely need a save from a situation that is out of hand. Finding a way to signal your needs at the moment can help you work collaboratively without confusion. "My husband and I used the word 'Rope,'" says Taylor-Klaus, "meaning we needed to get pulled out of there."

The code word also doesn't need to be kept secret from the kids. "It's OK to use a known code word in front of the kids so you can be honest about your emotions. By being transparent, you're saying, 'I want to be more in control than I am, and I need to take some time to manage my emotions.' It's actually a good lesson for them to learn. No one is perfect."

Make Couple Time

Protecting and nourishing a couple's relationship should be a high priority, says Harris. If possible, take weekly date nights. If that's not an option, connect with your partner at home when the children are absent. After the kids go to bed, try to plan a late-night candlelit dinner or snuggle up for a movie night-in. It can also help to set up weekly family meetings so you can speak openly with your partner in a calm environment.

See a Therapist

It's not unusual for differences in parenting styles to lead to clashing and arguments. If a helicopter parent is coupled with a free-range parent, the pair may benefit from working with a therapist or coach to create balance within the family. While several parenting styles can work together without much disruption, an impartial expert can be a welcome addition to the family dynamic when the divide is immense.

Know It Is Never Too Late

Many couples may build their parenting framework early. Others may only consider it after the family shows signs of distress. Is there ever a point when it is too late to fix the damage caused by arguing parents?

As parents, we often hear about the precious developmental period of the early years and may feel the pressure of a ticking clock. But there is never a point in child development that would be considered too late to have changes that make a positive impact, says Harris. There is always time to improve, and children will significantly benefit when parents work more collaboratively in their parenting style. "As long as there is trust," adds Harris, "the positive impact of change is always achievable."

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