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 for the parents to understand their individual parenting styles. Parents typically fall into one of four categories:
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 tend to be rooted in past experience. Individuals often choose to parent based on how they were parented as a child or they may parent in complete opposition to that experience.
Lynne Donahue acknowledged that while she and her husband are both fairly laid back parents, their parenting styles do differ. “My husband is definitely the one that says no more often, while I’m much more quick to give in,” she says. Fortunately, by recognizing their individual styles, parents have a better chance of pinpointing and managing their differences.
Keep the lines of communication open
Kathleen Diegelman, MSW, LISW-S, Director of Youth Services with Family Solutions Center, advises parents to engage in regular daily “check-ins” in order to stay on the same page. “It is important for children to know that their parents communicate about their child’s school day, grades, behaviors and even successes!” she says. “The better the communication, the less likely the ‘good cop/bad cop’ dynamic will play out in a family.”
In the Donahue household, the roles are pretty clear-cut, with dad acting as the primary disciplinarian. However, punishment is discussed and agreed upon before it is doled out in order to keep the message consistent for their two boys.
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.
“It actually can be very healthy for children to see effective problem solving and compromising within their family,” says Diegelman. “Witnessing and learning these skills as a young child can help prepare them for years ahead when faced with problems.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
“If parents are unable to see eye to eye on a frequent basis regarding parenting, it can sometimes cause stress, anxiety and behavioral problems in children,” Diegelman says. If constant disagreements are taking a toll on the family, she suggests seeking help from a mental health professional who has experience in working with children and families.
“Remember the saying, ‘Children learn what they live.’ Be good role models and have healthy communication. Whatever parenting style works for your family and your children, be consistent, loving, nurturing and don’t be afraid to ask a professional for help if you need it.”
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.