Aligning Different Parenting Styles

How to turn conflicting parenting values into complementary ones

Posted Oct 31, 2013

Sustained, intimate relationships are usually both the greatest opportunity for personal growth and the greatest challenge of our lives. And they are the former because they are the latter.

Children need both affirmation and influence. Unfortunately, many relationships break down because we keep trying to make our spouse be good at what we value without properly recognizing our need for what they bring to the party.

So the question is how do you turn conflicting values into complementary ones? How can you and your spouse create a relationship where your children get the best you both have to offer—and where you both learn to offer it in a healthier way?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Start with safety. Help your spouse know that you value what he or she is trying to do for your children. Express genuine appreciation for his or her desire to affirm or influence your children. Point out specific ways you can see that your children have benefited from having him or her as a parent. Then scrupulously avoid using the word, “but.” Don’t do it! Get it out of your brain.

After affirming your value for having a positive impact on your children, don’t go on to say, “But…you often do it about things that aren’t that important.” There are no “buts” when you’re affirming people and creating Mutual Purpose. There are only “ands.”

2. Motivate with natural consequences. If your spouse is reluctant to engage in this conversation with you, think of things that are important to your spouse that will help him or her want to engage. Then share these as you invite your spouse into this complex discussion. Think, for example, about pain, concerns, worries, or problems he or she may have with you or with your children that are connected to the changes you’d like to discuss.

For example, you might say, “John, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can better work together with our son. I know you and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. I know you are also frustrated that he has drifted away from you. I also know you don’t like how I criticize you at times about how you handle things. I don’t have a lot of answers, but I want to find a way to help you have the relationship you want and to partner in a way that works for you as we solve problems with him. Could we set aside some time to discuss this?”

3. Work on you first. Realize that while you will have useful feedback for your spouse, he or she will likely see weaknesses in you that you must be willing to hear. Be open and humble. If you get defensive in the conversation, avoid reacting in the moment. Say, “I’m sure there is merit in what you’re saying. I’m feeling defensive right now so I’m going to need time to think about it. Can I do that and then get back with you later to talk about what I will do with these suggestions?”

If you are to work together better, it is going to require both of you to change. If you both work on yourselves, you’ll be a potent parenting team for your children.

4. Organize for the long run. Have realistic expectations. If both you and your spouse have habits that have been nurtured over a lifetime, they aren’t going to change after one conversation. I suggest you frame this conversation as a starting point, then agree on ways you can help each other stick with commitments you make about how to work together more productively. Be patient with one another as you try new approaches.

May you have success as you find ways to complement one another, grow together, and give your children the gifts both of you want so much to offer.