Before our children came along, I envisioned the perfect parenting strategy in my mind, imagining the kind of mother I would become. I had well-laid plans and rules I was determined to follow. However, there was one crucial aspect I overlooked in my blueprint – my husband. The question of co-parenting when you disagree about how to raise your kids was something I had not fully considered, and it was about to become a significant part of our parenting journey.
Now that we have two girls, we’ve noticed that the way we raise them isn’t always the same. I think the cot should be next to the bed for the first year, but he thinks the baby should have her own room as soon as possible. When it comes to meals and snacks, I have tighter rules, and he is the “candy man.” Some days can be hard because we don’t always agree.
Disagreement Is Normal
It’s not just us; there are other couples here as well. Anna and William, a couple from New Jersey who don’t like to give their last names, have always made each other better because of how different they are. But when they had their own two girls, his strict way of raising them started to cause trouble at home.
“He wants his two young children to always be quiet and good. It’s just not possible since they’re only babies. And I’m supposed to follow rules that I don’t agree with, so we’re all over the place,” says Anna. How do they work out their problems? Anna says, “We try our best not to fight in front of the kids and work things out behind closed doors. We could use more resources like that to help us iron out our discrepancies, but it’s a start.”
We don’t get to try out how our parenting styles will work together before the babies come. Still, it’s important to know that you don’t have to agree on how to raise kids to be a good parent.
Here are six things that experts say couples can do to help each other through these tough times.
Be clear about how you want to raise your kids.
Even though couples don’t have to agree on everything, it is good for each person to know how they were raised and what views and habits they brought from their childhood homes. Then you can choose how you want to raise your children.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CEO of Impact Parents and a certified professional guide for parents of complex children says, “The parents I work with may have been raised in a certain way and want to change.” What used to work for your family may not be the best choice for them now. Taylor-Klaus adds, “Children today need parents who will talk to them more consciously and work together.”
Don’t say bad things about each other in front of the children.
If you see your partner acting in a way that is different from how you would, Bonnie Harris, M.S. Ed., a parenting and child behavior expert in Peterborough, New Hampshire, suggests that you let it go until you can talk about it one-on-one. Harris often talks to struggling couples about different parenting styles. Your kids shouldn’t see you fight with your partner. Also, it’s better for the bond if you don’t put the other parent in a bad light.
Use a memorable term when you need help.
When you’re trying to discipline your partner, stepping on their toes can make them angry later. But your partner may really need help getting out of a bad position. Finding a way to say what you need right now can help you work with other people without getting confused. “My husband and I used the word “Rope” to mean that we needed to be pulled out of there,” says Taylor-Klaus.
The kids don’t need to be kept in the dark about the code word, either. “It’s fine to use a known code word in front of the kids so you can be honest about how you feel. By being honest, you’re saying, “I want to be in charge more than I am, and I need some time to deal with my feelings.” In fact, they should learn something from it. No one is flawless.”
Spend time together.
Harris says protecting and growing a couple’s relationship should be a top concern. If possible, take weekly date nights. If that isn’t possible, talk to your partner at home when the kids aren’t there. Plan a late-night dinner with candles or a movie night after the kids go to bed. Set up family meetings once a week so that you and your partner can talk freely in a calm setting.
Talk to a therapist.
Parenting styles that are different from each other often lead to disagreements and fights. If a helicopter parent is married to a free-range parent, the two might benefit from working with a therapist or guide to create balance in the family. Even though different ways of parenting can work together without much trouble, a neutral expert can be a welcome addition to the family when the differences are huge.
It’s never too late.
Many couples may decide early on how they want to raise their children. Others might not think about it until the family shows signs of trouble. Is there ever a time when it’s too late to fix the damage that fighting parents have done?
As parents, we hear a lot about how important the early years are for a child’s growth, and we may feel like the clock is ticking. But Harris says that there is never a time in a child’s growth when it would be too late to make changes that help. Parents can always do a better job, and their kids will gain a lot if they work together more in raising them. “As long as there is trust,” Harris says, “change can always have a good effect.”
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