When Parents Disagree: 10 Ways to Parent as a Team

 

Most couples have experienced this situation at one time or another—you think  you should discipline your child a certain way, and your spouse wants to handle  it differently. You each become entrenched in your position, and that’s when the  fighting starts.

At some point, most couples will argue over how to discipline their children.  After all, you and your spouse are different people who will naturally approach  parenting differently at times—or maybe more often than you’d like. Understand  that some disagreement is to be expected. Marriages, after all, are unions  between people from different family backgrounds and beliefs, which can easily  lead to parental tensions.

Rather  than teaching your child how to behave and problem solve, the focus instead  becomes parent against parent.

 

Let’s stop here for a minute and make an important distinction between having  different beliefs and communication styles versus not being able to agree on  what decisions to make regarding your children. Since we are not the  same people, we will each have our own style of relating to our kids. You might  be very talkative and like to chat while your spouse might be quieter and more  reserved around your child. Both styles are okay. It’s the differences around  parental decisions regarding a child that  can be problematic. For  example, let’s say you believe your child should be punished harshly for lying  while your spouse feels that lying isn’t a big deal. As a result, you react  differently and aren’t on the same page when it comes to consequences. Here’s  the truth: Children can sense when their parents aren’t in sync in their  decisions around discipline. Your child will feel the lack of unity between you,  which can create a feeling of instability for him. This will also give kids an  opening; they will sometimes use it to provoke a fight. This gets your child off  the hook and turns parent against parent. (More on this later.)

Related:  Fighting over parenting decisions? How to find common ground.

Disagreements between parents can cause minor flare-ups or a serious all-out  war in your household. Following these 10 simple guidelines can help you to  avoid battles when it comes to raising your children.

1. Provide back-up. Make it a rule that if one parent  disciplines the kids, the other parent must back them up, even if they do not  agree. If you don’t do this, it will show your child that his parents are not a  unified team and undermine your authority. Your child will see that he can get  around any parenting decision you make. (Note: this does not apply to parents  who neglect or abuse their children. If you feel that something your spouse is  doing is detrimental to your children in some physical or emotional way, then  you need to put your foot down and say, “I can’t go along with this.” Then take  the necessary steps to make sure your child is safe.)

2. Arrive in the same place. Find a way to arrive in the  same place on how to proceed with your child. Be aware that your fights over how  to raise your children are disturbing to your kids. Children don’t like to see  their parents not getting along, and these battles can have long-term effects.  Understand also that every time you argue with your mate over parenting, the  focus shifts away from your child. Rather than teaching your child how to behave  and problem solve, the focus instead becomes parent against parent. Back one  another up in the moment, even if you don’t fully agree. Later, when things are  calm, (and you’re out of earshot of your child), you can discuss better ways of  handling the situation with your spouse, and then present a unified front.

3. Who feels most strongly about the issue at hand? If you  and your spouse really are on different pages on something and neither person  can get to the other side of the issue, then the parent who feels more  passionately about it might make the call. Let’s say, for example, that you’re  okay with your 12-year-old going to a sleep over at a good friend’s house, but  your spouse is still fearful of allowing your child to have that kind of  independence. You might say, “I feel so strongly about this. I’d really like you  to support me on this, even if you don’t see it the same way.” Or, “Can I ask  you to go along with me on this one, even if you don’t agree?” Or, “I can’t say  for certain that this is the best decision, but my gut is telling me to give it  a try. Can you support me on this?”

Related:  How to stop the family anxiety cycle.

4. Talk about parenting decisions when you are calm. When  calmly listening to one another’s perspective without being critical, you’ll  have a better shot at influencing your spouse’s decision. Remember, there is no  such thing as “One Truth” thinking. There are many ways to think about things,  not just your way. When you can be respectful of that truth and make room for  another person’s thoughts that are different than your own, you’ll have a chance  of keeping your mate open to your ways of thinking, too. Otherwise, your  attitude will contribute to making their wall go up. The two of you then become  polarized over the issue when that’s not always what the fight is really  about.

5. Empathize with your child, but don’t throw your spouse under the  bus. If your spouse feels more strongly about something and you’ve  decided to go along with their decision, you can say to your child, “I know it’s  hard for you when Mom won’t let you go on a sleepover. I see it bothers you  because you feel you are ready for this independence.” You’re empathizing with  your child’s feelings, but not breaking the unified stance. When you show  empathy, your child also feels he’s understood and not so alone. Your child  still must go along with the decision you’ve made with your mate. Again, later,  Dad can discuss with Mom his differing views and perhaps they can come to a  different decision together on how to handle things the next time the situation  comes up.

6. Get to know your spouse’s family history. Perhaps it’s  difficult for you to understand your mate’s perspective on child rearing because  it’s so different from your own, so you end up feeling critical of his way of  thinking. I recommend that you get to know his family history and how deeply  those beliefs are rooted. It may help you to see things more objectively and  less personally, and you will then be able to respond with less judgment. Try to  help each other see that safety issues, environmental concerns, and cultural  norms change over time. What might have worked back when your spouse was a kid  might not make sense now. Or what worked in his family back then might be  different than what will work in your family right now. Anxiety about change and  differences can often cause parents with the best of intentions to stick to  what’s familiar and comfortable, rather than think of what’s best for the  present situation.

Related:  Arguing over your defiant or acting-out child?

7. When parents fight, kids are off the hook. Sometimes kids  will use the fact that you’re not on the same page to manipulate you. They might  even set you up to fight with each other to get off the hook. Let’s say your  husband is very strict with your son about schoolwork, but you feel that he’s  putting too much pressure on your child.

Here’s a scenario:

When it’s time to do his homework, your son says he “stinks at math” and  complains about his teacher. Your husband yells at him and says that he needs to  bring up his math grade. Instead of answering, your child looks at you for help.  As if on cue, you jump in and say, “Get off his back—he’s doing fine.” Your  husband replies, “If he was doing fine he would have gotten a better score.” Now  the fight is ramping up. You respond with, “You’re too strict–that’s why he’s  like this, because you’re too hard on him.” Meanwhile, your child keeps watching  TV and doesn’t do the homework he was supposed to do. In this situation, the  focus goes to the wrong place. When kids provoke these arguments, they’re not  getting the discipline they need and they’re not being held accountable. In  addition, the tension caused by the fighting is going to increase the tension in  your house, which often causes your child to act out (or “act in”) more. Their  behavior won’t change if you’re more focused on fighting each other than holding  your kids accountable for their behavior.

8. Take a time-out. Rather than getting into a battle of  who’s right and who’s wrong, focus on working on a plan. Take a time-out if you  need one. Try taking a walk, go do something else, or take a drive. When you  come back later, set up a time to talk. You can say, “Let’s each spend a few  minutes talking about this. I’m just going to listen to you and I’m not going to  say a word. I’m not going to interrupt you. Just let me hear why this one is so  important to you because you don’t usually hold onto things so strongly.”

9. How to listen. It helps couples to give each other a few  minutes and just talk about why a certain issue is important. Everyone has their  own wishes, their own yearnings, their own traditions, their own visions of the  future. If we can spend a few minutes just hearing the other person without our  anxiety getting stirred up—and without trying to talk our mate into our way of  doing things, defending or blaming—and instead hear where they’re coming from, a  lot of times you’ll be able to find common ground. You can say, “What can we do  to negotiate on this?” Or, “I hear you. Now I understand why this is so  important to you. I don’t feel as strongly, but I’ll support your decision.” Most importantly, you will both know you’ve been heard.

Related:  How to parent calmly as a team.

10. Is it time for professional help? If you feel like  you’ve tried everything and you’re still not able to get on the same page with  your mate, you may need some personal help in the form of a therapist. A good  therapist will help you find ways to talk with each other rather than fight  about every parenting issue that comes up and find out if there are other things  getting you “stuck.”

Believe it or not, natural differences between spouses can be treated as  strengths, not as causes for arguments. Differences can help us expand our own  perspective and understand one another better. The bottom line is that we all  have different ways of communicating and different belief systems—and that’s  fine. No two people are going to come together with the exact same opinions and  values 100 percent of the time. The important thing is to find a way to come  together so your kid is not pulled into the middle of your  differences.

 

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