Help! How do we present a 'united front' with different parenting styles?

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Question: We have a four-and-a-half-year-old boy. My husband is a fantastic dad, but we differ in parenting styles, and it often leads to disagreements.

My mum preaches that both parents should be a united front at all times, but this is hard. I am very "go with the flow," and my husband is much more strict. I accept that his style is different and mine is not necessarily better or worse, but I cringe at some of the things that come out of his mouth, and I need some advice on how to handle them.

My husband of course sees my expression, even though I bite my tongue, and this makes him feel like he is less than.

He is open to reading parenting advice articles that I place in front of him, but he's had "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk" on his bedside table for a year and has not cracked it. Any advice?

Answer: I have coached hundreds and hundreds of parents, and honestly? I haven't really met parents who are "on the same page," and furthermore, I am not even sure what that phrase means.

When parents want to be on the same page, it usually means that one parent wants the other parent to change completely, or the communication is really off, or neither parent feels confident about their skills. Or all of the above. In any case, the aim of parenting is not to agree all of the time. It is to be yourself, understand your child and work with your partner in the most peaceful and kind way possible.

I'm also going to invite you to disregard your mother's sermons on parenting, not because she is wrong or unknowledgable, but because, from where I'm sitting, it doesn't appear to be helping. We can lay advice aside when it becomes black and white.

You are "go with the flow," and your husband is strict. Of course you cringe when he parents; I'm sure he is dying inside listening to you, too. The good news is that you know he's a fantastic parent, and I'm betting that you were initially attracted to each other for the very differences that trouble you now.

Whether parents are strict or lackadaisical, two of the same type together can be quite problematic, whereas parents who differ? Although tough for you, these different styles are a wonderful yin-yang for your child. Although the easygoing parent may seem like the clear winner, there isn't any reason that your husband needs to change.


Your four-and-a-half-year-old needs boundaries (and lots of them), so don't put your energy into changing your husband.

What we do need to change is how, when and where you are communicating with your husband about his parenting. You may not be saying how disappointed you are, but your disapproving face is as (or more) judgmental than the words. I can tell that you aren't trying to erode his confidence, but we have to shift the "yikes" energy into something more positive and clear.

Now that we've accepted that both of your outlooks are necessary, you and your husband can begin to have some meetings. These meetings (maybe date night?) can consist of check-ins on the kiddo, how you feel you handled an issue and topics related to different parenting philosophies.

Many of us assume that we know everything about our spouses, but how they were raised and how they understand family can still be a mystery. It is worthwhile to unpack how you understand family and to discover where you agree and where you differ.

When it comes to certain issues that are driving you crazy (he's simply too strict about cleaning, for instance), pick a quiet and calm moment, and say: "I see cleaning is important to you, and I think Rupert needs to learn to clean up his stuff.

Let's find a way to encourage him that involves some fun." There's no accusatory language or "be like me" or "why are you like this?" You are trying to meet in the middle.

Instead of the change sitting on your husband's shoulders (the unread book on his bedside table), take a parenting class together. A group, website, workbook or anything else that promotes your communication skills as two distinct people would fit the bill.

Good luck.

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