Fighting over parenting styles can cause a lot of friction in a marriage for you, your spouse, and your kids. If you are fighting over parenting styles and no getting anywhere, read on. Here are 3 ways to stop fighting over parenting styles.
Explore the Roots of Your Differing Parenting Styles
Parenting styles reflect your upbringing, your spouse’s upbringing, and the values each of you have developed over your life experience. When fights over parenting styles occur, the fighting is really about which set of values will govern the family. The easiest way to find a middle ground is to set aside time to explore with your spouse your respective upbringing and values. Don’t make these conversations long and hard. Keep them exploratory and safe.
Here are some conversation starters:
- How was your family governance distributed between your parents?
- How did your parents handle conflicts over parenting?
- Who was the disciplinarian?
- Was your upbringing rigid or relaxed. Nurturing or demanding? Loving or distant?
The idea is for you to reminisce together about what you remember from childhood. Compare notes. Looking back, what do you wish your parents had done differently with you? What did they do that was exceptionally good?
You will find that the roots of your fight over parenting styles is in the past. Either you are adopting the parenting style of your parents or you are adopting an opposite style. Your spouse is doing the same thing, and your two styles are in contradiction. Understanding your histories is the first big step to ending the fight over parenting styles.
Dig For Common Interests and Values
Fights over parenting styles is often positional. You want more discipline for the kids while your spouse wants more spontaneity and fun. Positions can only be compromised, making both of you feel like you have given up something important. Rather than argue over whose position should prevail, try digging for common interests and values.
The simplest way to do this is to ask each other this simple question:
If we raised the children with more discipline (or other position), what would be all of the good things that would happen for you?
The answer has to list all of the good things that would happen for your spouse, not the kids, or the family. You are looking for the interests that the position satisfies.
A good answer to the question might be:
“If we raised the kids with discipline, I would feel less anxious and fearful. I would feel safe because I would be living in a more predictable family environment. I need certainty, safety, and protection.”
A not so good answer would deflect to the kids:
“I think our kids need a lot of discipline to teach them focus, patience, and persistence. They need to learn impulse control to be successful in life.”
The reason this answer is not so good is because it does not identify the true interests of your spouse. If your spouse gives this kind of answer, you might consider responding:
“Yes, learning patience and persistence is important. If the kids learned to be patient and persistent and have impulse control, what would be all of the good things that would happen for you?”
Your spouse, in stating what the kids needed, made another positional statement. This is very common as most people have never learned about the difference between positions and interests. By reframing the question with the new position, you will create an opportunity to discover the real interests.
If both of you take the time to identify the personal interests that would be satisfied if your parenting style were adopted, you will discover ways of satisfying all of those interests without compromising your position.
Make Specific Agreements
A major source of fights over parenting style is the absence of a clear agreement between the two of you. It might sound foolish to have a written parenting agreement. However, many fights over parenting arise from unspoken expectations and assumptions. If you expect your spouse to do something or not do something and you do not have an explicit agreement, you might be setting the both of you up for conflict. Take the time to write out a specific agreement, being clear about who, what, when, where, how, and what happens if there is a problem.
Recognize with each other that the agreement will be an evolving set of expectations that will change over time and with experience. The more specific you each can be in the agreement the less likely you will be frustrated.
To summarize, don’t assume that parenting is a natural process. To do it well requires some planning, discussion, and agreement. Fighting over parenting styles is simply an indicator that you both need to take the time to understand each other, discover your shared interests, and commit to a specific agreement. You will be happy at the end result.