The majority of us can agree to disagree on most things. After all, difference is what makes the world go round, right? But is it quite so easy when it comes to co-parenting, or is it a case of one parent ruling the roost and the other learning to compromise.
“Even before I got pregnant I knew my husband and I would be parenting in very different ways,” says Rashida Tayabali. “It was always going to be the case that he was the good cop and I was the bad.”
Tayabali describes herself as a big stickler for following routine and being consistent with her parenting, and admits to never hesitating in saying no to her son if she thinks something is not good or right for him.
Her husband on the other hand practices more of a relaxed approach, and has the belief that talking and trying to reason with a two-year-old is the way to go. He also doesn’t believe that that there is much benefit in sticking to strict timings and will happily extend bedtime by an hour if his son wants to continue to play.
“I actually think my child responds better to my parenting style as he sees there is structure and consistency in the way I approach things,” explains Tayabali. “My hubby on the other hand hardly says no, and will give in easily at the first sign of distress and playing up.”
Of course, it is inevitable therefore that such differences often result in major disagreements occurring.
Tayabali gives a recent example of when her husband started giving her son a piece of dark chocolate before breakfast during the Christmas break. A habit which proved a struggle to break.
“I said not to do it, but he said he couldn't refuse our son. Of course though when he tried saying no, my son couldn't understand what had changed! We ended up fighting about our parenting styles, but I've always told him "begin as you mean to go" which means don't start a bad habit that cannot be sustained in the long term.”
So how do this couple resolve their differences?
“We talk about things when I'm calm and try to resolve our issues then, or at least reach a compromise,” says Tayabali. “It’s no good trying to do it when I am worked up though as I usually end up outright saying his way is wrong!”
Not every couple has the premonition that their parenting styles will be different from the outset though.
In fact when Jackie Stern* met her husband it was the exact opposite.
Jumping straight into the role of stepmother, Stern complimented her husband’s parenting style with his older children really well. So it definitely came as somewhat of a shock when they had their own children and things were so different.
“I’m very theory based as I come from a psych and education background, and strongly believe that raising kids 0-4 is like programing them for life,” says Stern. “My husband parents more along the lines of being fun but firm, and is supportive of the likes of controlled crying and leaving the kids to sort it out for themselves.”
Whilst Stern admits that she doesn’t necessarily always think that she is right, she does believe that the younger ones respond better to her parenting style, and credits this success to what she has learnt through her studies.
It doesn’t mean that she always feels satisfied with the outcomes of their disagreements though.
“My husband will go quiet and I know that he feels like I squash his authority,’ she says. “Generally he will agree to a compromise but I know deep down he doesn’t agree and it’s just his way of avoiding further discussion. I don’t feel like either of us win really, and I feel like I have to fight really hard to get to a compromise.”
“We have thought about counseling, but I’m hoping that as the kids get older it will get easier. He has really great parenting views 6 and up!”
Kathy Walker, Director at Early Life Foundations, is no stranger to understanding different parenting styles, but highlights that the most important thing for children to have is consistency.
“Children respond best from a very early age to routine, predictability, reliability, and consistency. They need to know that things can be relied on to always be the same, and that rules are rules and limits and boundaries are the unchanged, regardless of the parent they are with.”
Walker explains that if parents are inconsistent or use vastly different styles and strategies, then children really don’t know what to do and don’t have an understanding as to what basic foundation, security, or limits exist.
Walker warns, “This can be really difficult for children. It can often lead to anxiety, pushing limits, and more challenging behaviour as children attempt to work out which parent will allow them to do more or less.”
So what is the best way for couples to co-parent when their parenting styles are so different?
“Sit down, talk together, read some books, attend some parenting workshops, and work out the compromises,” advises Walker.
“Remember it’s not necessarily about who is best or who is right or wrong, but how you can both present a united and consistent front for the best outcomes for your children. Accept you are different, don't argue in front of the children, work hard behind the scenes to build more and more consistency, and don't give up trying.”
Walker also offers the following Do’s and Don’ts tips for co-parenting effectively;
- Do be consistent on key disciplining and key rules about life, such as bedtime, eating, managing behaviours and limit setting
- Do try to uphold a decision made by the other parent even if you don't agree
- Do try to follow through with what each other says or does
- Do work hard behind the scenes to become more united on your parenting strategies and take it seriously
- Don’t contradict each other in front of the children
- Don’t overide a decision that has just been made by the other parent
- Don’t tell the children that the other parent is wrong
- Don’t undermine the other parent in front of the children