Parents often disagree on how to raise their children, which can easily turn into a running battle of wills. In most cases, one parent is more permissive, warm, and accommodating, while the other is more authoritarian, strict, and rule-oriented.
For instance, one parent wants to let the children eat whenever and whatever they want, while the other has specific rules about when and what they should eat. Usually a middle ground is appropriate. But even the slightest difference in the middle ground can cause conflict between parents.
Without appreciating what the other parent is trying to accomplish, discussion can easily turn into a vitriolic argument. The best way to approach the other parent is by truly understanding and validating the values at the core of his or her parenting style. When we sincerely validate other people’s values, they are more likely to be open up to our ideas.
Authoritarian parents want their children to develop self-discipline and perseverance, qualities needed to make it in the world. Permissive parents desire that their children experience acceptance, happiness, and freedom.
BOTH sets of core values are important for a child’s healthy development; yet, each parenting style in the extreme is detrimental. When we integrate both sets of values and reflect on them from time to time to avoid extremes, wild fluctuations between lenience and severity toward the children diminish.
So if an authoritarian parent says in a stern voice to the child, “Eat your broccoli!” the other spouse could say to the authoriatarian parent later in private, “I agree that it’s important that the child eat vegetables instead of junk food. It’s important for me, and I think, more effective to use a kind, or at least respectful, rather than commanding tone of voice.”
On the other hand, a permissive parent might give in to a surly child’s demand: “I’m not eating this health food for dinner. I’m going to have fruit loops!” The other parent could then respond to the permissive parent later in private with something like, “I know you want to give our children freedom. But they also need to develop healthy eating habits, and to avoid becoming too picky and over-indulged. Let’s give them fewer choices and no choice at all when they speak disrespectfully.”
No two people will ever agree exactly on how to parent, and that’s all right. In the real world our kids will have to adapt to many different people’s expectations and attitudes. Having discussions, being flexible, yet, accepting differences in parenting style from your spouse will benefit both the couple’s relationships and the kids’ development.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD