Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have different parenting styles, and each style is perfectly fine by itself. But when we are both trying to parent at the same time, the styles clash. The kid ends up getting buffeted — blown about, not smorgasbord-ed — by words and different requests or imperatives.
Do we just take turns directing an activity, or should one of us shut up, or do we need to take parenting classes? Note that this is never violent or argumentative, just annoying to the other parent, and probably the kid.
— Different Styles
Different Styles: Why wouldn’t you take a parenting class, given the chaos that you’ve described? Your kids are suffering. Enough said.
Doing that wouldn’t preclude your working on this yourselves. To start, each of you can ask yourselves why you haven’t yet summoned the grace and maturity to “lose” in a few of these clashes. Your suggestion — that you “take turns” — comes from a similar idea, but it needs to be more than just a surface interaction like the possession arrow in basketball.
For one thing, it may be better for the kids than your clashing, but it’s still destabilizing to go back and forth instead of just being consistent.
More important, though: While you’re in the moment and when you’re fully aware that either way is truly fine — and when you can actually see that the kids are not sure which parent they’re supposed to heed — the choice to stick to your “way” vs. the other parent’s “way” reveals itself to be little more than just an ego thing. You’re digging in on “mine” instead of yielding to “ours.”
A decision to take turns would only formalize a “mine” mind-set, and two parents can’t afford to serve ego above their partnership or their children’s well-being.
When you truly believe your co-parent’s way is wrong, as in, somehow unprincipled or harmful, then choosing not to back down would be a matter of principle, not ego.
But even then, you’d still do well to find a reputable parenting class, and seek counseling with a good marriage and family therapist.
If there isn’t a good class near you, then check out Parent Encouragement Program, which is moving some classes online: pepparent.org.
Re: Different Styles: My parents were slightly worse in that there was an ego at stake for one of them. It got to the point that one would deliberately issue contradictory directives to get under the other one’s skin.
By the time I was a teenager, I learned to play them off each other so well that neither one noticed I had regular sleepovers with my best friend on school nights and I got to hide other bad behavior.
Please do deal with this soon or your kids will play you like a full symphony.
Anonymous: Good point, thanks — kids grasp this stuff years before their adults think they do. Best to rein it in before a mere “asking Dad because Mom said no” starts to sound quaint.
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