When You and Your Spouse Have Different Parenting Styles

When you and your spouse have different parenting styles, it can lead to conflict. It is quite common for parents to disagree on how to handle a situation with a child. Sometimes this comes from the approach needed in different parenting styles, sometimes it's a simple case of one parent feeling that a child is able to handle something and the other parent disagreeing.

Different styles of parenting aren't always compatible, but there are ways to make things work. It's important for parents to be receptive and supportive of each other. Children will quickly discover any weaknesses in their parents and look for ways to exploit them. 

  • Agree to make each other look good to the children by not arguing in front of the children or undermining the other parent's discipline. If you do not like the way your spouse handles something, do not change it. Say your child breaks something that doesn't belong to him, like another child's toy. Your spouse grounds the child, but you think your child should pay to replace the toy. Do not end the grounding. Out of the child's hearing, explain that you would have preferred to have the child pay for the toy to teach him to be more careful, and to teach him the value of things. Ask your spouse to agree to handle the matter that way the next time it happens. Figure out if both punishments might be appropriate and then add your own.
  • Appreciate your spouse's strengths. Not all differences are negative. Children can, and should, learn from different methods of discipline.
  • Focus. Instead of getting emotional about a situation, set your emotions aside and communicate with your spouse to find the best solution to a problem. In order to do this, both spouses must develop listening skills.
  • Don't treat your child like a friend. Part of making the other parent look good in the eyes of the child is not treating the child as your best friend. Never complain to your child about your spouse's behavior. Children will learn to use your complaints about each other to manipulate you. It also makes one parent become the bad parent.

There is never going to be perfect parenting. Keeping things consistent and always following through with what you show and tell your children lets your children know that parents can disagree while still respecting each other. The child also learns that he cannot manipulate one or both parents, because even if one parent prefers a certain method of discipline, he or she is not going to let the child off the hook.

If you can't agree work with your spouse, the two of you should attend counseling. When one parent sabotages the other, it always ends up hurting the child. Couples counseling will help parents understand why it is so important to work with each other as a team when it comes to parenting.

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