How to Agree and Agree to Disagree
Issues related to co-parenting can be a significant source of conflict for all involved parties as there are multiple valid and healthy approaches to raising a child. In fact, it is common for families to seek outside help to mediate differences in parenting styles. Many of these differences stem from values learned and modeled during our own childhoods.
It is important to find commonalities between yourself and your child’s other parent(s) related to the most important values you hope to instill in your child and to be consistent with reinforcing those values. For example, one parent may feel very strongly about a child using respectful language, while the other parent believes that children should be allowed to express themselves. Finding the middle ground might mean the child will be expected to use “please” and “thank you” but the parents will let “ma’am” and “sir” slide. Other parents find themselves at odds when one parent is more authoritarian. While these are common concerns, they are often ones best considered on a case by case basis. However, if you find yourself at odds with your current or ex- partner, keep reading for some ideas to maximize consistency and promote compromise which you can try before seeking outside help.
Parents often discipline differently than one another because they are enforcing different sets of expectations. It can be really useful for parents (or the entire family) to have a meeting to determine the “house rules”. School-aged kids are accustomed to following rules posted in the classroom and similar rules can be really helpful at home. Having a set of three to five rules can really clarify what is valued within the family as well as incorporate any salient concerns.
You should also consider phrasing your house rules positively. It is much easier for children to understand what you DO want them to do vs. what you DON’T want them to do. An example of this would be “I will keep my hands, feet, and other body parts to myself” instead of “Do not hit your siblings.” You will likely need to be more specific with younger children and include visual reminders. Your 10-year-old is more likely to understand things like “be respectful” while your 3-year-old may need a reminder to “Use walking-feet inside the house.”
After deciding on rules, families are encouraged to write them down (posterboards are great for this) and display them in the home. Don’t worry, you probably won’t need to incorporate the house rules in your decor permanently! Having the house rules posted holds both kids and parents accountable, and prompts more consistent discipline when rules are broken. During your family meeting it may also be beneficial to decide what types of discipline are used for specific offenses (e.g., talking back gets a warning while aggressive behavior is an automatic time-out).
Support One Another
Having one another’s back is especially hard if you don’t always agree with the other parent’s methods. Barring any harm coming to the child, it is critical to present a united front with your spouse or ex. Once a consequence has been assigned or decision has been made, parents should really try to support one another. Disagreeing with the other parent to the child or in front of the child can undermine the other parent’s authority as well as potentially set you up to be a “pushover.” If you strongly believe the other parent’s decision was unreasonable, bring it up in conversation with him or her. Should the decision be altered after the conversation, it is often best to let the parent who initially made the decision discuss the change with the child or discuss it together as a family. Supporting one another even when you don’t totally agree is key in avoiding the “good cop/ bad cop” routine and encourages more consistency and open communication within the family.
A Note About Divorced Homes and Blended Families
Families with children who spend time in multiple homes often have more difficulty with consistency and compromise related to parenting for understandable reasons. When possible it is best to follow the suggestions outlined above, but sometimes the living situations are just too different or the parents really struggle to focus on commonalities. If you are in this situation, you might find yourself feeling angry, discouraged, or guilty. Remember that you both want the best for your child even if you don’t agree on what that means. Finally, keep in mind that you do not have much control over situations where you are not present, but you can do your best to keep your home as consistent as possible for your child.
I hope that these tips help your family function as a team using compromise and consistency. As always, there is no shame in asking for help from a professional. Parenting conflicts are very personal and often highly situation-dependent. You may find solace in having an unbiased third party help you find a middle path that focuses on your child’s needs and your family’s well-being.