When Parenting Styles Clash

First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes the moment when the happy couple welcomes a child into the world and realizes their parenting styles don’t quite mesh. Fortunately, differing perspectives need not spell disaster. With a concerted effort, parents can successfully merge their styles to create a well-rounded approach to parenting. Here’s how:

Understand each other’s style

The first step is to recognize what kind of a parent you are. According to Stephanie Lowe Sagebiel, MSW, LCSW with Centerpoint Counseling, there are four parenting styles:

  • Authoritarian The parent expects rules to be followed without need for explanation. Obedience is the primary concern.
  • Permissive The parent rarely disciplines the child and is more concerned with establishing a friend-like relationship.
  • Authoritative The parent sets rules, but allows input from the child. Discipline tends to be more supportive than punitive. Cooperation and raising a self-regulated and socially responsible child are the primary concerns.
  • Uninvolved The parent provides for a child’s basic needs, but is viewed as being detached from the child’s life.

    Parenting styles are typically not chosen; rather, they tend to be rooted in past experience. “Most of what we learn about parenting is based upon what we experienced as children. We either choose to parent how we were parented or we parent intentionally opposite from how we were parented,” Sagebiel says.

    By pinpointing their individual styles, parents can better understand and manage their differences.

    Keep the lines of communication open

    “Developing a healthy co-parent relationship relies heavily on good communication skills between parents. If parents are able to clearly delineate their roles, there is less confusion for the children and less conflict for the parents,” Sagebiel advises.

    Annetta Gholdson stays home with her three children and therefore often plays the role of disciplinarian; however, her husband is kept in the loop. “Because I’m in the situation, I handle it the best I can,” she says. “I never say, ‘Wait till your father hears about this!’ He will hear about it, but not to make him the ‘heavy.’ There are no secrets. No good parent/bad parent.”

  • For divorced parents, communication becomes even more essential – and challenging. To avoid parenting inconsistencies, Rachelle Reeves created a communication binder where she keeps everything from activity schedules to a note-taking section where she and her ex-husband can track information they want to share with each other.

    Establish clear rules

    “When parents are unclear about parenting decisions, children feel confused, anxious and potentially too powerful,” Sagebiel states. When parenting styles differ, it is important that parents take each other’s belief systems into consideration in order to establish consistent rules that both parents can agree upon.

    “If a child feels that neither parent is in charge because he keeps hearing the response ‘What did your mother say?’ or ‘Go ask your dad what he thinks,’ then the child may become anxious and angry because he is not ready to be in charge of his own parenting. Parents need to do their job so he can do his,” Sagebiel added.

    Agree to disagree

    Even the most agreeable couple will disagree from time to time. The key is to find a way to resolve differences without either parent feeling that they are compromising their values.

    “If children see their parents disagreeing but then reconciling over parenting mistakes, the children grow up learning how to negotiate relationships, confront differences and resolve conflict,” Sagebiel points out.

    Parenting styles are bound to differ from time to time. But when parents work together to understand each other’s perspectives and form a consistent approach, everyone in the household benefits. A respectful, harmonious relationship between mom and dad trickles down to children – who will likely model these positive behaviors when they become parents themselves someday.


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