Sometimes parents have completely different styles of
parenting. For quite some time, I worked with a family that struggled with this
very issue. Mom and Dad couldn't agree on anything. Every time mom attempted to
set a limit, Dad undermined her and made a joke of it. Every time Dad tried to
use empathy to work through something difficult, Mom retorted with sarcasm.
When their son was little, this he said/she said style of
parenting was confusing. Limits were constantly redrawn, and the kid didn't really
understand the family expectations. He took to clowning around to break the
tension. While this worked at home and brought everyone back to the same page,
it became a problem at school. As he got older, he used the opposite styles to
his advantage. He knew how to get what he wanted from each one of them, and he
wasn't afraid to start an argument between the two if it meant he could shift
While this was an extreme case of parenting opposites, many
parents do have different styles. Some are more authoritative while others are
highly permissive. Some consider themselves playful parents, which leaves
others to do the heavy lifting … or so it seems.
There's a big difference between constantly fixing what's wrong and working to build upon what's right.
Flannigan Bos, MSW, family therapist and relationship expert, helps parents find
ways to work together, even when they have very different ideas about
parenting. "When parents learn from each other's differences and try to find
the best approach for the family," explains Bos, "They model the importance of
working through differences, and they learn to challenge long-held beliefs." In
other words, when we learn to work together, we actually learn from one another.
I find that one of the biggest problems is lack of
communication. When parents have opposite styles they either argue about
parenting regularly or they attempt to avoid all discussions about parenting,
which results in increased resentment.
"Weekly meetings are not just about compromise," cautions
Bos, "but a time to sit down and talk about what's working and what's not."
Instead of focusing on my way vs. your way, take a look at what's happening
with the family each week and go from there.
Highly sensitive kids fall apart when parents yell. Introverted kids need plenty of downtime. Extroverted kids need help learning how to express their feelings.
2. Be positive
When parents have opposite styles, there is a tendency to
highlight the failures. In an effort to find one "best" style, sometimes
parents get fixated on what's wrong.
I always encourage parents to talk about the positives.
Parenting is never easy, and there will always be difficult moments to work
through along the way. But there are also tons of wonderful moments. When we
shift our thinking to look for what's right in the family, we can build on
There's a big difference between constantly fixing what's
wrong and working to build upon what's right. When parents take a positive
approach together, they experience less stress and greater confidence in their
3. Parent the kids you
All too often, parents sit on my couch and give me a
blueprint of how they want to parent
their kids and how they think their
kids should respond. This is a mistake. Here's the deal: You can't possibly
know what your kids really need until you get to know your kid, and that requires some trial and error.
It's great to have an idea of how you want things to go, and
the sooner parents talk about parenting styles and goals, the better. But there
is always an element of surprise when it comes to parenting.
Flexibility, both with your kids and your parenting partner,
makes for a smoother ride through the ups and downs of this parenting gig. That
much I can promise.