When it comes to children, no two parents in the history of this planet have ever had exactly the same approach to parenting. This is hardly surprising since co-parents have (by law!) grown up in different families and have had different experiences of being parented. Parenting style is seldom the critical factor in deciding who we fall in love with – and many of us are attracted to our opposites. So when parents disagree about parenting (to some degree or another), it’s just par for the course.
Having delivered parenting courses for many years now, it is a rare workshop where I don’t hear the words “The problem is my husband/wife/ex-partner/mother-in-law. How can I get him/her to parent differently?” When parents disagree about the right way to bring up children, it is invariably the other person who is doing it wrong!
Telling someone they are parenting all wrong is a conversation that is unlikely to go well. And since there isn’t only one correct way to parent, it will invariably provoke confrontation and negative emotions rather than constructive problem solving. But when parents disagree about parenting, there are ways to talk about the issues in a more helpful way. Here are a few tips to help keep parenting discussions child-centred and positive.
Talk when the children aren’t around: Choose a moment that suits both of you when you aren’t in a rush. And not in the middle of a heated moment. Avoid disagreeing about parenting in front of the children if you can.
Use “I” and “We”: Take ownership of your own statements and feelings. “I find it difficult when he’s allowed to do that because he then wants to do it all the time. I would really like it if we could find a way round that.” Rather than “You are doing it wrong. You need to stop doing that.” Conversations that start with “I” tend to be more successful.
Listen: Your partner is less likely to be defensive or confrontational if he/she feels heard. Acknowledge his/her point of view and reflect back what you have heard to be sure you have understood correctly (“So you’re saying you don’t like telling him off because you only get a short time with him at the end of the day and don’t want it to be full of arguing.”). Don’t jump to conclusions, asks for clarification.
Try and agree on the big stuff: Parents will naturally have a slightly different approach and children will get used to that. The world is full of different personalities who do things in different ways and there will always be slightly different rules in different places. Try and agree what constitutes problem behaviour and implement a consistent approach to tackle it. Avoid Good Cop/Bad Cop parenting.
Focus on problem-solving: Aim to come up with a solution that you can both live with. You may have to try out a few different solutions to get there: be flexible. Start by defining the problem and allow opportunities for both of you to come up with ideas and solutions. Do not belittle or dismiss your partner’s ideas even if you don’t think they will be workable.
Stay in the present: Don’t drag up emotions and arguments from the past or from other topics. Sarcastic comments, criticising or putting each other down tend to be symptoms of underlying conflict. Manage your own hotspots and emotions and try to stay business-like and child-focused so you can address the specific issue at hand.
If necessary, postpone: If the conversation has taken a wrong turn and turned into a confrontation, agree to talk about it another time and give yourselves an opportunity to calm down and reflect.
Whether your relationship is rock solid, strained or completely broken, successful co-parenting involves being aware of your own triggers and hotspots, managing these thoughtfully and being prepared to compromise.
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