With the ongoing pandemic affecting all of our daily lives, issues we have in our primary relationships can barge its way into the forefront. Differences in parenting styles is a big one; being at home with your partner and seeing them parent in ways with which you might disagree can become increasingly challenging.
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. There’s no rehearsal. No interview process. You haven’t a clue what it’s going to be like, and suddenly, you’re hired.
But you’ve picked out someone you trust wants to be there with you – and do this “parent thing” the right way.
Sure… B]before kids came along, you found a few annoying things about your partner. But those rolled off your back pretty well. The good far outweighed the annoying. So he’s a little loud and yells at the television. Or she spends a lot of her free time with her mother. You’ve loved each other and believe you have a solid marriage, firmly believing that, “When it’s time, we’ll have kids. And it’ll be great.”
Annoyance turns into fear which morphs into defensiveness..
So you bring your first bundle of joy home (let’s call him Spencer) and slowly but surely, those very issues can rear their heads as virtual monsters. The things that were once tolerable suddenly seem intolerable.
“I need you to stop yelling at the TV. Spencer’s starting to do it too.”
“Your mother’s always over here all weekend. Not only does she spoil Spencer, I want to do things as a family, just us, on my days off.”
Not only do your partner’s habits affect your life, now you may likely fear how they’ll affect your child’s life. Instead of feeling closer as parents, you may realize these differences reflect the way your own parents did things so it’s normal for you. Or perhaps the opposite; you’re determined to not do it the way your parents did. And then.. each of you gets defensive.
For example. the yeller?
“My family always yelled a lot. There’s nothing wrong with that. We express ourselves. It’s healthy.”
If you’re having mom over a lot?
“We’re a close family. We always had someone over at the house– an aunt, cousins — our house stayed full of people all the time. I have great memories growing up like that.”
And so the debate begins. Debates can turn into arguments, and perhaps your arguments can even get brutal.
How do you work together to make decisions about parenting and honor the fact that you two don’t see things the same way? Parenting is a complicated, marvelous, frustrating, boring, and intriguing job. So what does it take to compromise? To listen and not be defensive when you’re trying to work out your differences and beliefs about being a parent?
Four important realizations to help calm the debate...
It’s not easy, but here are four guidelines.
1) Realize most approaches to parenting have their strong points, when used at the right time.
Say someone can be overprotective or obsess about safety and that irritates you. He may be the very parent who’s going to notice on a family picnic that a hammock is being hung right over a sharp rock. Or perhaps you’re the parent who’s more lax, not as vigilant in “watching the kids.” That parent is the one who, when little Jamie is getting older, is going to argue that it’s time for her to be allowed to go with friends alone to a game. Both brands of parenting can be “right” and each have their place. It’s dependent on the circumstances.
The trick is to realize what your own particular vulnerability is – what you might underdo or overdo – and realize that sometimes your instincts might be off base, and your partner could be right on target. You two balance each other out if you use respect and honesty in an attempt to discover that middle ground – and what you may need to learn in the process.
2) Appreciate and be grateful for your differences.
Maybe your partner announces on a sunny Saturday morning, “It’s a gorgeous day! Let’s take the kids for a hike!” But you’d planned chores for the day. You could choose to argue about the value of teaching kids about chores. And then they could respond that you don’t know how to have fun anymore. Or both of you could take a minute and discuss it. Be aware and grateful for your differences. And compromise.
3) Realize that your children are better off because you two are different.
Your kids can benefit from you both if you’re not constantly fighting for control. Dramatic differences can be worked out, everything from diverse religious views to academic preferences.
This kind of cooperation takes flexibility. If you yourself are often a rigid or “black and white” thinker, or have to be seen as right, or you’re partnered with someone who is, the control battle will be hard to avoid. The more rigid person will either not allow the other person to parent, to make choices or suggestions, or will be highly critical of them if they do. “I don’t put the diapers on like that.” “Why are you letting him stay in the tub for so long?” “She doesn’t like her sandwiches like that.”
This kind of micromanagement of your partner is not only disrespectful, but you’re setting an unhealthy example for those kids who are hearing everything you say.
4) Manage your own insecurity.
Parenting is the most ambiguous task you’ll ever do. None of us know for certain what the outcome will be. As long as they feel safe and loved, the majority of children will thrive. Nobody is perfect and you’ll make parenting mistakes. If you’re concerned about your perceived failings, talk to friends, go to a therapist — whatever you need to do to get yourself to a place where you’re comfortable in your decision-making.
There are some wonderful books about calming down your communication that I’d highly recommend: one is The Four Agreements. The other… How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.
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Originally published on June 21, 2018; updated and republished on November 28, 2020.