Parenting is a journey like no other. There may be no other role you take on in life that feels so fulfilling and also so overwhelming. Right when you think you’ve figured something out, there is a change in development or just life in general. Right when you’re in a rhythm, something has to shift or adjust to keep things going. If you are co-parenting, you are accountable not only for your duties as a parent but also to your partner. It’s not only about yourself, your goals, and your opinions. It’s also about the other parent. The other adult factors in, and this is someone with whom you are endeavoring to present a united front, to cooperate, to get along every day. In a perfect world, you would both have similar visions of how things should go, and agree about everything to do with raising your child(ren). But this is not a perfect world! And even people with a lot in common who had similar upbringings can have wildly different parenting styles and ideals.
When you and your partner disagree on parenting!
You might find that the “big issues” come up for you; disagreeing about things like religion, exposure to culture, and when and how to explain developmental information. Maybe these were subjects you discussed before
getting married and expanding your family, or maybe you both assumed you would be on the same page. Short-term issues like bedtimes and age-appropriate chores might also cause you grief; these are less likely topics to have been considered ahead of time but can be just as persistent an issue. And anywhere in between, you might have conflicting ideas about which schools the kid(s) might go to, extracurricular activities, boundaries around socialization, and more.
You might be influenced as a parent by your triggers. A lot is said these days about the way we talk to children about sexuality and gender identity, the way we talk about body image and relationships with food, the way we advise and inform about other cultures. If you struggled with any of these issues, whether it was the things said about them or the things not said by your parents, you might have a very clear idea of what you’d like to do when it comes to your child. Your partner might have the complete opposite idea. One of you may be more informed by personal experience, while the other might prefer to research and read studies from professionals. Both of you may think that your point of view trumps that of the other person.
These differing views or desires may manifest as arguing, sometimes in front of your child(ren). They might lead to two completely different sets of rules or standards depending on which parents the child is with and a silent stalemate when everyone is together. You may feel anxious about certain subjects that you know your partner isn’t on your side. Perhaps you’ve given up mentioning things and feel resentment bubbling inside you, causing you to lash out about other things or at other times.
Acknowledge the tension and the conflict between the two of you. Pretending it will just get better or denying that there is a difference in parenting style will only make it worse. It can be
challenging to resist assigning blame. You might think, “The problem is that I want to do it this way, and you want to do it the wrong way!” And your spouse may be thinking (or appear to be thinking) the same thing. This can lead to approaching the issue from a defensive place, as opposed to trying to determine where you both stand and why so that you can resolve the issue. The actual problem is that you disagree about a topic. Neither of you is to blame for your point of view.
Set aside time to discuss what has been going on or discrepancies in your parenting style when/as they arise. When you are talking it out, there have to be a few guidelines; make sure you establish them together! First of all, both of you need to approach the issue with empathy and validation. It is normal to have differences in opinion. It does not mean you picked the wrong partner to raise a child with or that your child is “ruined” by inconsistent parenting. Such catastrophic thinking will only get in the way of you two finding a resolution.
As you leave blame and judgment out of the conversation, it is also important to be curious about the other person. Most often, we walk into conversations to make our points known and make very little effort to understand the other person’s experience. Try to ask open-ended questions to better understand where your partner is coming from. Ask them if a certain decision was made because of what they experienced in their childhood. Maybe they are simply trying to do the opposite of what they had received from their parents. You may also be feeling as if the other person isn’t making any decisions at all, forcing you to carry the mental load on your own. Your partner might think that going along with whatever you want is helpful and not realize that it is stressing you out!
View this time as an opportunity to share your point of view and to understand your partner’s. You may learn things you never knew about this person and vice versa. You might be inspired to share something that it never occurred to you to talk about. You both may also find that this conversation requires you to talk about things that are very difficult for you. A lot of our strongest core desires for our children are based upon our need to shield them from pain, as influenced by our own biggest traumas. Some of your partner’s choices might reflect that, but you may also learn through your conversation that some of them were random. Something you took very seriously and personally might have been an arbitrary choice made by your partner, who might have had no idea that you had a strong opinion about the issue. You may also learn, through this conversation, that something you don’t care much about means a lot to your partner.
As the two of you create a new plan collaboratively, one of the best things that can guide your decision-making would be your values. We often focus so much on the details, such as how many hours a week the kids can watch TV? Or what is the time they go to bed? While the details are important, so everyone knows what to expect, it can distract you and your partner to talk about the values attached to these decisions. For example, maybe watching TV is a way for your family to connect because you guys watch a music video or a short video on national parks and then talk about it, or maybe plan to go somewhere you’ve seen. When you remember that it is not just about the minutes spent but also about the value of connection, you can make better decisions.
Making decisions based on your values also means that the highest-priority issues or rules are being set first. You might not care about some smaller inconsistencies if you feel that all the main priorities are being met. For example, if supporting your child’s mental health and self-confidence is the most important thing for both of you, and that is being prioritized congruently by you both, it might not matter if some of the smaller priorities have some discrepancies sometimes.
When you and your partner are discussing your values, you may want to utilize therapy sessions such as the couple’s therapy and counseling we offer here at our practice in Woodland Hills. Someone outside your relationship may be able to ask questions and observe comments in a way that helps you to find common ground, as well as identify where further communication and compromise might be needed. If you both have the same values but have different approaches (people can have widely varying views on what constitutes success, health, and happiness), you may find that this is where your disagreements about parenting come from. This can be more difficult to navigate and may benefit from third-party experts to inform and guide the conversation.
With or without a support person, your goal should be to identify your top priorities as individuals and come together to find a congruent approach. Hopefully, you have a strong foundation of communication in your relationship that will help you to listen to each other, as well as explain your point of view. Remember to come to these conversations with the goal of understanding the other person’s point of view, not to automatically agree with them or try to change their mind. Just to understand.
While having a plan in place can give you the confidence and peace of mind that things will get better, there is still some work to be done around the application of the plan. Things can get tricky when either
of you is feeling tired or had a long day at work and find it hard to follow through with the plan outlined for your family. In those moments, it is also important to have your own emotion regulation skills so that you can communicate to your partner that you need a break. In therapy, we discuss ways we can regulate our emotions effectively so you can parent in the most authentic way.
The end goal is to parent as a team, so it is very important to stay consistent and supportive of one another in front of the kids. A common complaint made by parents is that one always has to be “the bad guy” because the other says yes to everything. Worse, sometimes a parent will say “yes” after the other parent said “no” (whether they knew the other parent said no or not). The way to avoid being played against one another is to establish to your child(ren) that both parents make decisions. This might mean waiting on an answer sometimes. It might also mean consequences if your child is of a certain age and has already been told “no” and then gone to the other parent secretly to ask again. This is probably an age where the child “knows better” on some level but doesn’t have a lot of self-control. Remember, children don’t think of the bigger picture. They think of what they want and, like all humans, want to get what they want. Just because your child is trying these tactics on you doesn’t mean he/she/they is a “bad kid” or trying to ruin your marriage. This requires explaining to your child that both parents are on the same page and making decisions together, and supporting that statement with actions that reinforce it.
To stay supportive and consistent, figure out what works best for your schedule and lifestyle. Do you want to establish a keyword that means the conversation has to pause so that you two can discuss how to proceed in private? Do you want to schedule regular time to chat about decisions that have been made recently and how you both felt about the outcome? Do you want to write a ranked list of your mutual values in notes on your phones for reference? How can you be clear and consistent with yourselves and one another and with your child(ren)?
When you are coming together with your co-parent, remember to give yourself and the other person grace. Parenting is tough because the stakes are so high, and the exhaustion is so real. Don’t get sidetracked by “making everything equal” when establishing the rules and guidelines for your home. It is okay for kids to have certain activities or traditions that mostly happen with each parent. Sometimes, it’s something they have in common with that parent, like a favorite ice cream flavor or sport. In fact, having one-on-one time with each parent is a great way to build and strengthen connections, the same way it’s beneficial for adult relationships.
Issues come when there is an imbalance; one parent does the majority of parenting “chores” while the other does the majority of “fun activities,” or one parent enforces rules while the other circumvent them. Try to build a routine that gives you both access to your child(ren) for discussions, decisions, and bonding activities and trades off the tough stuff and the fun stuff. Recognize the equal value you bring to the table with your different skill sets and interests, and find a way to make those things work for everyone. Have compassion for yourself when you feel frustrated, envious, or conflicted about coming up with a compromise and/or facilitating the other parent’s needs or values.
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, offers individual and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije, Ani Seferyan, AMFT, Allison Lucchese, AMFT, and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, Codependency, and Addiction. Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.
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