When Parents Have Different Parenting Styles


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


Children discover early in life that Mom does things different than Dad. This in itself is not an earthshaking discovery. But when a child learns that this difference between Dad's approach to life and Mom's can be used to the child's advantage a problem can develop.

Pretend for a minute that you are little Johnny and you have learned that if Dad is a little stern with you that you can cry and your Mom will cuddle you and make you feel better. No big deal for Johnny. This does not confuse him. He has learned how to make the best of a bad situation. He is adapting to his world.

Revisit this same scene. Mom may say to herself, "Oh no, Dad is too strict. I better help Jonnie by being more lenient and gentle." Dad sees this and thinks, "Look at what she's doing. I'd better get firmer with this kid or he will get out of control."

This difference in thinking can develop into a war of wills between two people who love each other. Both parents may have the best interest of the child at heart but be unable to resolve these differences because of fear that the child may be damaged or they may resist considering the other parent's point of view.

Even if his parents do not verbalize this difference Jonnie will sense this conflict. He may begin to view the world of adults as place where winning in this battle of the wills is important. Since he is immature and learns by modeling adult behavior, he may join in this battle and often use manipulation to drive a wedge between his parents.

A parenting class may help parents who differ in approach find a consistent parenting style that they can both agree on. This would be the ideal. But many times strong people have difficulty giving up their point of view. The following suggestions may be of value to parents who cannot agree on a parenting style.

           Talk this situation over with your partner and agree to disagree. Recognize that your partner is sincere and is not trying to intentionally harm the child. Recognize that arguing about this difference will not change it and that it is better for your child to model two people that are different than two people that are fighting.

           Agree that when one parent starts to work with a child that the other parent will stay out of the way. This requires faith in your partnerís intention not the method.

           Agree that you will never criticize each other's parenting in front of the child. When you criticize the focus is changed from helping your child to resolving your differences.

           Be prepared for complaints from your child about the other parent. When these complaints come have a few pat phrases memorized. You can say, "Dad has his reasons for doing things like he does. Maybe you would like to talk to him about your concern." or "Mom thinks different than I do. I hope you learn to work it out with her."

           One parent's style may be more compatible with the personality of the child than the other parentís style. As a result the child may develop a wonderful relationship with one parent but not the other. This is ok. It does not mean that one parent is doing it right and the other is doing it wrong. If your child is communicating and learning from the other parent support this relationship and be patient. If the child seems to have a good relationship with you, avoid the temptation to feel smug or right. In time, as your child matures, he/she will recognize and appreciate both parents unique way of viewing the world and the differing ways you each choose to love him/her.

           Do not try to help your child work out his/her relationship with the other parent. You can never be responsible for a relationship between two other people. Trying to be responsible for others behavior just makes matters worse.

The bottom line is this: Be responsible for your own behavior. Respect your spouseís point of view. If you are true to your principles and beliefs about parenting, without criticizing your spouse, your child will have an accurate comparison of both approaches. The power to drive a wedge between parents will be nonexistent and you home will be calmer.

There is a possibility that your spouse may eventually choose to change his or her parenting style. But this will only occur if he/she has seen you successfully model your parenting ideas not because you overpowered him/her with your logic.