We all thought starting a family was the most romantic thing we could do as a couple. Making a baby is the ultimate act of love. During our pregnancy our partners kiss our belly, as we assemble the nursery and dreamed of the future...SCREEEECH.
Ahhh. That's the sound of halting brakes as we hit reality. Turns out having kids is the hardest thing your coupleship has had to endure, right? Besides the sleep deprivation, and having kids in your bed acting as a veritable chastity belt, now you're fighting over how to parent.
Both dad and mom love their kids and want what is best for them, so when you disagree about how best to handle a situation -- it can be hard to let it roll. It's not like you're disagreeing over the colour to paint the kitchen. It's the shaping of your kin -- the next generation. This matters!
This issue of different parenting styles (one parent is too strict, one is too lenient) comes up in every Parenting Bootcamp I teach. How do we work it out? It's a universal question!
So here are my best tips. You ready?
1. Agree to disagree. Face it, there are just some things that you will never agree about. It's better for the children to see that their parents accept they have differences, than to fight about those difference to their death. We want to model to children how to co-operate.
2. Who ever starts the discipline, finishes the discipline. If your child comes complaining to you that mom said he can't have TV because he didn't get a good grade on your last test, don't undermine the other parent! Do not undo or reverse her decision. Simply offer empathy "sounds like you're upset with mom's decision about that -- you need to talk to her about that if you think it's unfair" Do not triangulate and get involved.
3. Talk outside the time of conflict. It's okay to talk about your disagreements in parenting, just don't do it in the heat of the moment. If you don't like your partner's approach -- talk about how you might think it could be handled differently NEXT time. Don't step in and change this up midway.
4. Don't be redundant. Remind yourself that if you both parented the exactly the same way, one of you would be redundant. Instead, think of the assets you both bring to the family. I was a very patient parent, so I was best to help with homework with the kids. My partner seemed to get them tucked into bed without the dawdling. We used our these difference to our advantage!
5. Family meetings. Why leave parents to battle it out? I am a big believer in bringing family issues to the entire group and to hunt for the best solutions with everyone's input. Kids included. Children are more likely to live with the rules they helped establish. It no longer becomes mom against dad when discussing such things as: what to do when kids don't eat their suppers. By asking the children "what should happen when people don't eat?" and "how can we improve meal times?," you bring the entire family into agreement about how things should proceed.
Parents care deeply about their kids. If they truly want to put their kids' best interests first, they need to know that the bigger harm is ruining a marriage by fighting over raising the kids. It's better to go along with each others' idiosyncratic approaches that you may not agree with (that's too lenient, that's too harsh) than destroying a family with a relationship breakdown of the parents.