The Parent Classroom Newsletter > When Parents Disagree
When Parents Disagree

Feb 25, 2010

Here is a typical scenario:

You are right in the middle of a power struggle with your child over some non-compliant behavior. Emotions are running high. You deliver a consequence and your partner jumps in and criticizes you for way you are handling the situation.

You feel undermined, unsupported and upset. The situation becomes derailed. It is no longer an issue between you and your child, but instead an issue between you and your partner.

Parenting as a team is a wonderful goal, but harder than it seems when you combine two people who were raised in different backgrounds, and have different parenting styles, hot buttons and expectations.

It is important to understand that it is virtually impossible for you to be totally on the same page and agree on everything, and this should not even be the goal.

Kids can live with differing rules and expectations from both parents. They can deal with the fact that one parent is stricter, and the other more lenient. They can accept these inconsistencies without difficulty as long as three factors exist:

* · an understanding and acceptance of the parenting differences,
* · an agreement to be consistent in some given areas,
* · a willingness to support and back each other up.

When these three things are in place, kids get clear messages. They do not have the unnecessary and unhealthy power to start arguments between you, or to play one of you off against the other.

Here are some guidelines for thinking this through and coming up with a plan:

1. Even if you emphatically disagree with the way your partner is handling a situation or responding to your child, agree to back her up by not interfering or criticizing her in front of the child. We are all going to make snap discipline decisions that bother the other person. In the heat of a parenting moment, this can’t be avoided. If you disagree, wait to discuss it quietly and rationally out of the earshot of children. Give your viewpoint but actively listen to your partner, too. You may not know the whole story.

2. Another way to handle the above situation is to develop a cue word or signal. Ask each other, “When I see you struggling, what would you like me to do?” Some people are fine with their partner asking, “Would you like my help?” Some prefer the time out hand signal, and some prefer to hear a cue word, that means “You are losing it here and nothing you do or say is working.” Some just need to be left to suffer through on their own. The key is thinking this through beforehand and having a plan.

3. Get in the habit of conferring with each other on how to respond to your children’s requests or handle their offenses and consequences. Tell them… “Mom and I will talk…or Dad and I will talk about it….and we’ll let you know.” There are very few matters that can’t wait to be discussed rationally by the two of you, out of the earshot of children, where various options can be laid on the table and considered. Give yourself the time to make informed decisions by the two of you, and your children time to notice that you make these decisions together.

4. Change your mindset from trying to figure out how to agree with each other all the time, to how to back each other up and do so willingly. Adopt this position: “I don’t agree with you, but I am going along with you because I trust you.” Just think of what this attitude communicates to your kids!

5. Develop 3-4 family rules which you both will consistently apply using the same method and consequences. These would be the ones that are most important for the well being of your family and that convey your values to your children. You will never agree on how to handle all the behaviors, but if you can agree to handle the most important ones consistently , it will make a huge impact.

6. For all other misbehaviors, leave these to the discretion of the parent in charge. Kids actually benefit from having to deal with different people and different methods of problem solving and communication. It’s good practice for having many different types of teachers, bosses, friends. By supporting your partner whose style is different from yours, you are also supporting the relationship he or she has with your child.

7. Offer support to your partner.When one of you has had it, offer to take over. Keep your sense of humor present. You are in this together. You both love and enjoy your children and get angry and frustrated. Remembering to both laugh and vent together helps!

8. Learn some positive discipline methods that work. Yelling, arguing, repeating, reminding, threatening tend to be ineffective and cause children to dig in their heels and not comply. Educate yourself by reading some of the books listed on my website:
--- or by joining my next parent workshop series:

Jill Shugart, M.A., MFT - 910 Tulare Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707 - 510-528-0309 -
Ca. Lic.#MFT32528



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