I was asked some good questions this month and thought I’d take this opportunity to share my thoughts about them with you.
Q. What are your thoughts about each spouse having a different parenting style? How do you balance between the two to get the best out of it?
I know there needs to be consistency in approach, but I also realise that we each have strengths of our own and it would be beneficial for our child to experience a bit of both our approaches.
So I’m thinking how do we integrate both our approaches and at the same time, allow each other the room for discretion/creativity in the way we relate to our child?
A. Let’s begin by recognizing there will be differences in parenting styles in every couple. We came from different backgrounds and experienced different parenting styles in our own homes. We have different personalities and different expectations.
I think at the core of the question is the concern that we will confuse and/or in some way harm our child if we do things differently.
I believe if both parents are operating out of love and concern for the child, they can cooperate for the child’s good. So, how does this work?
1. Parents never ‘correct’ each other in front of the child. So kiddo doesn’t have to sort out which parent to listen to or fear the disunity of the parents. Whoever has told the child what to do or how to do it, completes that episode. If the other disagrees, talk about it privately and agree for future action.
2. If one or the other has a particularly strong opinion in a certain issue, the other let’s that one make the decision. But it should not always go one way or the other. Be willing to see the other’s point of view.
3. Perfectionism should yield to spontaneity when tensions rise. From our own experience, I was usually the perfectionist and wanted things finished and finished correctly. But this could drive everyone right into a bad mood or stubbornness. My husband would step in and say, ‘Enough. Time to do something else.’ At first I’d get mad, but I came to appreciate his more relaxed style. Most things do not need perfection.
4. Kids can adjust well to differing styles. We teach our children it is OK to run and be loud outside but not in the house. Or we teach them you may touch anything that is on this table, but don’t touch anything in that cabinet. So why not teach them you may rough house with dad and work puzzles with mom? The differences will be much bigger in some style differences and as the kids grow up, but the principle is the same.
Here’s an example from our sons’ teen years to see how this works through all our parenting. My husband let our sons choose their music. He would refuse a few of the worst, but let them play most music as loud as they liked. I couldn’t stand loud music, especially with a strong beat. So when Mike was around and I wasn’t, they played the music at earsplitting volume. When I was alone with them, I would ask if it was music Dad approved. If so, they could listen, but only if they kept the volume down or used earphones. They joked, ‘Mom rules or Dad rules.’ But they accepted it.
Q. Also I am aware that as the child gets older, they will tend to wisen up and manipulate each parent based on what they know about their individual approach. For example, one parent is more lenient, so the child will tend to ask for permission for something from that parent instead of the stricter one.
A. The parents pretty well know what their spouse will answer when permission is being requested. If the one who is more lenient is asked, they should either say, “We’ll talk about it and give you an answer later.” Or, “Go ask the stricter parent first. That will be the answer.”
This was the follow-up rule in our house and this endured from early childhood through adolescence. If they got a no from one parent, they could not go to the other parent to try to get a yes. Here’s how it worked:
Child asks Parent 1, “Can I. . . ?” That parent says, “No.”
So off he goes to Parent 2. “Can I. . . ?”
Parent 2 should ask, “Did you ask Parent 1? What was the answer?” When the child answers, “No.”
Then Parent 2 should say, “Then that’s the answer.”
If they ever managed to get the answer they wanted, they automatically lost the privilege. No questions asked and no appeal. They will only try this once.
We’ll take some other questions to answer in the next few newsletter. Keep a look out for more Q and A.