He was the man of your dreams. She lit up your life. And then the children arrived.
You thought you were aligned in everything. He met every check on your must-have list. She was going to be the perfect mom to your unborn children.
Now – you argue all the time. You argue over the kids. You cringe at his parenting style. She critiques your every move. You disagree on parenting issues. The children play you against each other – and they usually win.
This isn’t what you signed up for! Well, here are some quick ways to try and get back on track.
Explore you and your partner’s childhood.
Our parenting style does not just develop overnight. It begins when we begin. Unbeknownst to us, when we are being raised – we are making a parenting list in our head. I want to be that kind of mom. I never want to be that kind of dad. I want to be there more for my children. I never want to make my children feel the way my mom made me feel. All of this information is filed away until, “We’re having a baby!!” is proclaimed. Then all of those childhood cobwebs come out and shape who you are going to be as a parent. It may be that you want to emulate your parent – or you may want to do everything in your power to be what your parent wasn’t. Whichever it is – it will shape the way you parent.
Figure out what is driving your parenting style. What is driving your partner’s parenting style? Learn what their intentions are behind their parenting. What type of parent are you both trying to be? Talk about what types of parenting make you uncomfortable and why (e.g. spanking, yelling). Is it due to your own experiences in childhood?
Make a list of your must-haves.
Here comes the boring couples homework part. Make a list of your must-haves for parenting and have your spouse make a list of his must-haves. Compare your list. A must-have list might look something like this:
I must have-
Kids that talk respectfully
Kids that help out with chores
A regular bedtime
Compare your must-have list with your partner’s. See if you can compromise and agree to each others must-haves. You might not agree on some of them – and that’s okay. You are reading this article for a reason. But, try to be open and flexible. His must-have might not be a priority to you, but it is to him. Her must-have might seem ridiculous to you, but it is important to her.
Make a list of joint must-haves that you will agree to align on. Negotiate – “Okay, I will give you that must-have if you will agree to this must-have.”
Back each other up in front of the children:
There is nothing worse than two parents arguing about parenting issues in front of their children. You are giving your child a clear message that no one is in charge. The end result will be children who play you and your partner against one another – and that is a disaster for the kids and for your relationship.
Agree to back each other up when you are in front of the children. It doesn’t mean you agree with their parenting – it just means you are dedicated to looking like you are united in front of your kids.
Talk in private about your concerns over what you witnessed. Discuss with your partner what upsets you the most about the parenting interaction. Was it the tone? Was it how they handled the situation? What would you have liked them to do? Try not to be accusatory when discussing these issues unless you are looking for a heated argument.
Do not over compensate for your partner’s parenting style:
I have seen this time and time again in my child therapy practice. Parents who disagree with their partner’s parenting style will over-compensate. I call this see-saw parenting. Where one parent thinks the other parent is too extreme – so they become just as extreme in the opposite direction. The end result is a dysfunctional family and a child that receives mixed messages. One parent punishes and the other one undoes the punishment. One parent sets a strict tone and the other one sneaks privileges to their child. This type of behavior divides the family and does little to help grow happy, healthy children.
You both want what is best for the children. The best parenting comes in part, from consistent parenting. You do your children no good – when you and your partner basically cancel each other out by picking opposing parenting styles.
Try and have a dialog about finding some common ground. If the discussion doesn’t go well, consider getting a therapist to help guide the talk and make it more productive. Your happiness, your spouse’s happiness and most importantly – your children’s happiness depends on it.
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