Are different parenting styles causing problems in your relationship? Learn how to handle parenting disagreements without losing your mind!
Parenthood changes relationships, doesn’t it?
Even if you and your partner hardly fought before having kids, all that likely changed once you found yourselves raising a baby together. The challenges go beyond infancy, too—you may not agree with how to discipline, or whose career takes precedence over the other.
You’re not alone. Nearly every relationship faces difficulties the minute kids enter the scene. And no wonder—take a look at some of the reasons for parenting disagreements:
- You and your partner have more decisions to make together. Having kids forces you to make a ton of decisions, from how to put the baby to sleep to whether it’s okay for your toddler to eat a cookie. With more decisions to make, you’re opening up more areas for you to discuss (and potentially disagree on).
- You each may have had a different upbringing. Much of how we raise our kids depends on how we were raised. If you and your partner grew up in different upbringings, you might butt heads on how to move forward with your own children.
- Stress factors that come with having kids. Parenthood adds more challenges beyond directly raising kids. For instance, money might be extra tight, in-laws could intervene more than you’d like, or you argue about work and child care logistics.
- You have no time to talk like a couple. I’m not talking date nights, either. Many of your conversations could center so much around parenting logistics that you don’t have time to talk the way you used to. Daycare pick-ups or school lunches are your usual conversations instead of which movies to watch or your own parenting goals.
How to handle parenting disagreements
You might find parenting on the same page a struggle when it comes to raising kids.
Maybe you disagree on how to discipline your child going through a defiant stage. You’re beyond exasperated when she fights everything, but neither of you can agree on the solution.
And even if you can convince your partner to see your point of view, he or she doesn’t commit 100% (then grumbles that “it doesn’t work”). All these parenting challenges add strain to your family life, making it difficult to parent on the same page.
If this sounds all too familiar, don’t worry—you’re not stuck. But it starts with shifting your mindset from trying to change your partner’s opinions, to being open to them as well. It’s about moving from seeing yourselves on opposing sides, to parenting on the same one.
Let’s take a look how:
1. Acknowledge your partner’s point of view
What do you do when you don’t agree on discipline?
Let’s say you and your partner can’t agree on spanking: he thinks it’s the only way to discipline your child, while you don’t think it’s effective or kind.
It’s easy to overlook the underlying reasons and emotions he’s going through when the focus is on spanking. After all, in your eyes, this way of disciplining is so far removed from anything you’d ever do.
Instead of focusing on the issue itself, dig deep and try to see his frustrations. Using our example with spanking, maybe he:
- Tried other ways to handle your child’s behavior and feels that nothing else works
- Was spanked as a child and doesn’t see it as abnormal
- Feels stressed in other areas of his life, making it harder to be patient and show empathy
- Is driven by fear and lack of control, realizing he has no idea how to respond to your child’s behavior
- Feels overwhelmed with parenthood
Beyond your differences on how to discipline, deep down, he holds valid reasons that you too might face. Understanding his point of view is the first step in helping you be more patient, less defensive, and more open to working together as a team.
This (spanking) is just one example of how you and your partner might disagree on how to raise your kids. Apply the same thought process with your own disagreements, and see what you can unearth from his point of view.
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2. Listen to your partner’s suggestions and find valid points
Do you hold so tightly to your parenting methods that you can’t hear your partner’s suggestions?
Feeling strongly about a topic isn’t bad, but he isn’t a random person, either. You not only care about him, but he may offer a different perspective that few would be able to see.
Let’s say you’re determined to breastfeed the baby, but you don’t feel like your partner has been supportive. In fact, he has even suggested using formula, at least for some occasions.
It’s easy to see his suggestions or lack of enthusiasm for breastfeeding as not being supportive. But think about the valid points behind his suggestions.
Maybe he sees you exhausted from middle-of-the-night feedings and wants you to feel happy again. Or he wants to participate and bond with the baby and sees formula feeding as a way to do so. He could also be exhausted from the baby’s fussiness and believes he’s hungry for more.
These are valid points you can try to see instead of dismissing them right away. You may find you have more common ground, bringing you closer to coming up with new solutions you both agree with.
3. Explain your reasons and why they’re important to you
Parenting disagreements can feel like a courtroom sometimes: both sides feel so adamant about their points of views that we launch into defensive mode immediately.
On one hand, we’ve already talked about being open to your partner’s opinion. As we saw, the intentions and reasons are valid, even if the decisions differ from yours.
Now it’s time to learn how to explain your point of view the same way. Why is it important to you? What deeper reasons are making you hold so tightly to your convictions? Could you also have deep-rooted fears and frustrations that come out as defensive and stubborn?
Peel away the wall and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Don’t feel like you have to defend your choices for fear of being hurt. Instead, explain your reasons in a way that’s easier for another person to relate to and understand.
For instance, if you feel strongly against spanking, explain exactly why. Spanking sends conflicting messages about hitting, or that you’d rather discipline without fear.
Then, explain how you can discipline without spanking while still holding your ground. Your partner hesitates seeing your side because he feels you’ll be too lenient and soft. If so, talk about how you’ll put your foot down kindly but firmly so your child still has the boundaries she needs.
Rather than saying “no spanking” or “do this my way,” explain why you feel this is important. You’re clarifying with one another what exactly you mean without holding on so tightly on who’s right or wrong.
4. Remind yourselves you have the same intentions
Anytime I disagree with anyone, I ask myself if we likely have the same intentions. Whether with coworkers, family and friends, or my husband, I find it reassuring when I remember that we’re aiming for the same goal.
Let’s say one of your parenting disagreements is about using time-outs. He’ll send your child to her room if she’s throwing a fit, while you’d rather keep her nearby and guide her through her emotions. You see him as harsh, and he sees you as rewarding poor behavior.
At this point, it seems like you can’t find any common ground to agree on.
But peel away the technicalities, and you see that you both want your child to learn how to manage her emotions. You realize that you both feel rattled and frustrated when she throws a tantrum. And at the end of the day, you both want her to grow into a well-adjusted adult.
Keeping in mind the “bigger picture” reminds both of you that you’re on the same team. Sure, you may have different opinions on how to get to that goal, but deep down, you both feel strongly about wanting what’s best for your child.
5. Come up with new solutions
One of the best ways to meet in the middle is to simply negotiate on what you plan to do moving forward. Don’t think of negotiating as “losing.” This isn’t a battle, after all. The goal should be to try to come up with new solutions that work for your family, not to always have the final say.
Let’s say you and your partner disagree on whether to sleep train your baby or not. He thinks the baby will eventually learn to sleep on her own, while you’re more than ready to sleep train.
See how you can meet in the middle.
Sleep training isn’t one of those things you can do inconsistently, but you can give it a trial period to see if it works. For instance, you might agree to find sleep aids to make bedtime easier for your baby. Or you can agree to try sleep training to see how that can improve her sleep.
If, after having given it a fair chance, you find that one idea doesn’t work, then at least you both agreed to try.
A few pointers with working together and meeting in the middle:
- Actually support one another. If you plan to sleep train, then your partner shouldn’t sit back and wait for the whole thing to flop. Similarly, be as willing to learn how to help your baby sleep with sleep aids. The goal is about what’s best for your baby, not who “wins.”
- Don’t rub it in. If someone’s idea didn’t go as he or she hoped for, don’t rub it in. If your partner finds that your baby still relies on you to fall asleep and you’re beyond tired, don’t say “I told you so.”
6. Spend quality time together
I’ve found that frequent bickering is usually a signal that couples need to spend time together. Yes, you’re together every day, but much of that is, like we discussed, logistics about raising kids. Instead, find ways to reconnect so you’re not just being parents, but being a couple.
This might mean talking about what happened in your day, or not jumping on the laptop or phone the minute the kids are in bed. Be careful not to talk only about the kids, and how you can infuse your conversations with more meaningful topics.
Parenting disagreements can often stem from one or both people feeling disconnected from the other. Spend quality time together, and you’re less likely to argue and more likely to be willing to support one another.
7. Put your child’s interests first
Imagine seeing your parents arguing… then feeling like it’s your fault.
We sometimes get so caught up with ourselves that we forget about the people who truly put up with parenting disagreements: our kids.
Don’t let your child feel like she’s the reason you’re arguing. Instead, try to discuss it in private or, if the issue comes up in front of her, disagree maturely.
And try to be as consistent as possible. Flip-flopping between rules confuses her and disrupts the routine she’s trying to get used to.
Let’s say you only want her to watch 30 minutes of TV per day, but your partner isn’t as strict with the rule. With no consistency, she can’t take either of your word seriously, especially when she sees you argue about who’s right or not.
Nothing challenges couples more than having kids, especially when you can’t agree on parenting. It’s especially important to focus on yourselves and work as a team rather than further create a divide between you two.
Acknowledge your partner’s point of view to see where he’s coming from. Listen to his suggestions and you might find aspects you like and can support. Then, explain your reasons and why they’re important to you without feeling defensive.
When arguments seem to go nowhere, remind yourselves that you both have your child’s best interests at heart, even if you differ in how to get there. Come up with new solutions and support one another.
Since parenting disagreements can surface because of a disconnect, spend quality time together. Lastly, put your child’s interests first—never let her feel like she’s the cause of your troubles.
Parenthood adds new challenges to any relationship. Parenting disagreements can be both big and small. But by putting your relationship first and working as a team, you’ll be able to come together—and emerge stronger because of it.
Get more tips:
- What to Do when Your Toddler Prefers One Parent
- How to Be the “Bad Guy” and Still Parent Effectively
- When Your Husband Doesn’t Help with the Baby Because He Works
- 6 Reasons Motherhood Is Hard
- Dad Bashing: Why We Need to Stop Making Fun of Dads
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