My husband and I were out for dinner when we noticed a young couple arguing.
We stopped talking for a moment and sipped our drinks. She was far along in her pregnancy and he looked exasperated.
"What are they fighting about?" My husband asked in a failed whisper.
"I don't know, but whatever it is, it's nothing compared to what's coming after that baby's born," I replied, smirking at my husband.
The complex nature of parenting together is a universally relatable experience. There is no escaping the conflict that arises from clashing parenting or discipline styles.
My husband and I had our first parenting fight about two hours after our first son was born. (Yes, we only lasted two hours). I was stressed, trying to breastfeed unsuccessfully, and couldn't help but gripe about his peaceful existence as he tried to offer support. I pointed out that he didn't have nipples that were now like open wounds with a guppy latched on to them, and that he hadn't just pushed a tiny human out of his hoohaw. So while I appreciated that he was trying to be supportive, I really just needed silence. It was the first of many moments when my reality with this child would profoundly differ from his.
Aside from these biological differences, there are also often disparities in household roles that can put stress on marriages.
If you've ever witnessed a husband-vent session between moms, you'd probably hear about the unbalanced division of labour. Fathers are more involved with their children than ever before, but women still bear the larger load when it comes to domestic and childcare duties.
It was reported by Stats Canada that in 2010, women spent an average of 50.1 hours per week on child-care, more than double the average time (24.4 hours) spent by men. And this gap is consistent with domestic chores, such as housework, yard work and home maintenance with men reporting on average, just over 8 hours a week spent versus the almost 14 hours for women (both working full-time).
Although parenthood experience and division of duties vary for each family, we can all relate to the effects they have on our relationships. Yet, if these were the only challenging aspects of parent partnerships, we'd all be laughing.
There is no denying that the type of parent we become depends a lot on our own upbringing. This is not to say we automatically become our parents, but culture, fundamental values, and even our birth order play roles in our approach to raising kids. There are the parenting styles that we want to repeat, and those that we relentlessly avoid.
When I asked my trusted mom advisers about how different parenting styles affect their relationships, the subject of their own childhood experiences consistently came up. One friend commented on how different her childhood was from her husband's and how this causes friction in their household. Her memories from being a kid are laden with family quality time and warm, affection oozing from both of her parents, whereas her husband's childhood was lonely and disconnected from family.
"He grew up in a very different household, with very different parents," she said. She explained that it has affected their relationship because his struggle to connect with the children is something that comes very naturally to her. As she desires to re-create her loving childhood, she becomes limited by her husband's lack of experience, which in turn, leads to conflict.
Another mom told me about how she grew up with a hot-tempered father who was quickly angered by his kids. "I avoided him because I didn't want to be the focus of his anger. Now I have my own kids and I think I'm ultra sensitive to how an angry response to their behaviour may make them feel. I find myself intervening when my husband expresses anger with them, which of course ends up with us fighting," she lamented.
Varying approaches to discipline aren't always rooted in childhood experiences, though. In some households, it is simply because one parent isn't around the children as much. One mom lamented about her family dynamic, saying, "I am more strict and consistent in disciplining the kids. At times it makes me feel like I am the 'bad' guy because my son wants daddy when the going gets tough, because he doesn't get in trouble with him. And daddy doesn't want to spend the only time he has with him at the end of the day disciplining. But I'm the one there most of the time and I believe that following through will make for better behaviour."
After speaking to many parents about their marriages, it became abundantly clear that the couples who made a habit out of talking everything through, created much more space for mutual compassion and respect. In the video above, parenting expert, Alyson Schafer offers tips for avoiding conflict when you and your partner have contrasting parenting styles, and explains how this can actually be a positive thing.
"You're not going to parent the same," Schafer begins. "If you parented the same, one of you would be redundant. It's a beautiful thing that you have different strengths."