What to do when you and your spouse have different parenting styles

Parents - Child - Education - Argument
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Are you a strict disciplinarian or do you let almost anything slide?

What do you use more often, a carrot or a stick? Are you a strict disciplinarian or do you let almost anything slide? Small and big decisions concerning the everyday raising of our children can become a real source of conflict for a couple. How can we arrive at an agreement on how to raise our children?

Couples who are always in perfect agreement on how to raise their children are few and far between. Every time arguments occur, mutual accusations of incompetence fly in each direction: “You are not helping them by letting them get away with it!”; “You’re positively medieval!”; “You’re too overprotective!” etc, etc. And yet, it is possible to raise children without necessarily agreeing on everything.

What are the reasons behind your differences? 

Most parents deeply love their children and try their best. Yet, each has a tendency to assume that his way of raising children is the best one. This conviction is not necessarily shared by the other parent. And this is because both of them have been raised differently, sometimes very differently. Based on their childhood experiences, regarding what fulfilled them or made them suffer, each parent develops his or her ideas on how to raise their own children: “I would never be like my father who never gave us a hug,” or “My mother came to pray with us each night and I’ll do the same.” 

This is so much so, that in the course of conflicts on how to raise children that might occur, the first thing to do is to take a step back in what concerns our own past experience. Where do the choices, the preferences and decisions we make concerning our children come from? Let us have the presence of mind to question our ideas, which could have evolved into something of an ideology. Let us also ask ourselves whether consciously or unconsciously we are attempting to have control over how our children are raised at the expense of our partner … Are we competing for a place in our children’s affections? 

Discipline or let it slide?

Secondly, it is vital to realize the immense complexity of what we refer to as “a right way to raise children.” If, for example, being a “disciplinarian” or, on the contrary, “letting everything slide” was enough, everyone would do it. This would have become something passed on from one generation to the next. But things are never this simple!

With one child, strictness could be destructive. Freedom and discipline, reward and punishment, tenderness and strictness, are hard to balance. Raising children should not be reduced to enforcement of absolutes. It is an art requiring an infinitely more nuanced approach, which has nothing to do with turning a child into a dancing chimp or letting him or her to get away with almost anything. In many situations, who can affirm that he holds a miracle solution? For example, who can say what is the right attitude to have if a child takes drugs? Or one of you may be firmly against television, while the other thinks that if properly used, it’s a good way to broaden a child’s horizons. Opinions obviously diverge.

The secret that will put an end to fighting

It is good and wise to compare opposite points of view and it should be done calmly, in a spirit of tolerance toward the ideas of the other. This dialogue is important, and let us approach it with the notion that in many cases, neither of us can claim to know the right thing to do. Let us presume the best intentions of our partner and take this into account when searching for a nuanced way to respond to and discuss differences.

A child needs your flexibility and indulgence

As important as it is for a couple to arrive at a consensus concerning the direction in parenting, or in deciding on who holds the upper hand in a particular situation, it is equally important for parents to avoid a situation where they appear to constantly oppose the child. Sometimes, children need parents to be both flexible and indulgent. 

Let us never forget that raising children is by no means an easy task. Even Joseph and Mary had challenges raising their wonderful Son, who “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor of God and men.”

Denis Sonet

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