I see it in my office all the time—conflicts over different parenting styles can threaten to rip apart a relationship. While both parents are passionate about wanting the best for their children, they frequently have different views about what this means.
Individual parenting styles often differ, but it doesn’t have to ruin your relationship or marriage. There are four main parenting styles: authoritative, permissive, authoritarian, and neglectful. The healthiest parenting style for a child is authoritative, and parents can work together to use this style.
So what happens if different parenting styles are causing conflict between you and your partner?
In this article, we’ll explore how to parent as a team, and why it’s a good idea to lean into the parenting style that research shows will most benefit your child.
How Different Parenting Styles Can Harm Relationships
Couples frequently find themselves snapping at each other while trying to navigate the new territory that comes with each developmental phase of growing children.
Choose Your Parenting Style Intentionally
Fortunately, if handled correctly, you can learn to resolve these conflicts. How? By intentionally choosing your parenting style, instead of functioning on an event-by-event basis.
Sometimes one partner takes over the parenting reins from the partner with the quieter personality. This can lead to feelings of anger and resentment from the partner “doing the work.” And the partner who is getting “steamrolled” feels excluded and begins to check out of the relationship.
Or one person will constantly minimize the other. “I think he’s only failing class because that teacher is too hard on him.”
While breaking agreed-upon rules isn’t beneficial for anyone in the family, there are times to be flexible. However, steamrolling or minimizing your partner is quite harmful.
If you and your partner don’t explicitly discuss your different parenting styles, then you are putting your relationship with both your partner and your children in jeopardy.
If you and your partner share different parenting styles, you can “get on the same page” by intentionally choosing to parent in the style that’s healthiest for everyone involved. (More on this in a minute).
Let Personality Differences Shine Through
Once you agree to try your best to use one parenting style, you’ll naturally have personality differences that shine through. And that’s great for your kid!
For example, by nature, you might be more verbal while your partner is more action-oriented. Or you may be more emotionally sensitive, while your significant other is a highly practical problem solver.
As far as your child is concerned, these sorts of personality differences are assets; they provide your child with a richer, more diverse worldview.
Before you start rebuilding your relationship by developing a healthy co-parenting strategy, you need to understand the four major parenting styles and which one is best for raising a self-confident, happy child.
What Are the 4 Main Parenting Styles?
There are four main defined styles of parenting: Permissive, Authoritative, Neglectful, and Authoritarian.
(Note: Don’t mix up Authoritative and Authoritarian just because they sound alike. Trust me, these styles couldn’t be more different!)
Before you and your partner can present a united front to the kids, it’s helpful to try to understand what parenting style best describes your current style.
|PARENTING STYLE||MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF THE STYLE|
|Permissive||Doesn’t provide much parental guidance or direction|
Tries to keep the kids happy at all costs, even at their own expense
Few set expectations of the child
Rules that do exist may not be enforced
Takes on the role of a friend rather than a parent
Avoids conflict with children
Gives in to the child on most issues
|Authoritative||Equally demanding and emotionally responsive to their children|
Flexible yet have firm rules
Has defined expectations of children
Open, thoughtful, empathetic communication
Natural consequences that become opportunities to learn
Nurturing and supportive
In tune with child’s needs
Engages in open and honest discussions with the child
Uses every situation, including feelings of disappointment or sadness, as a platform for discussion and learning
|Neglectful||Doesn’t offer much attention or guidance|
Limits engagement with the child
Not responsive to the child’s emotions
Rarely implements rules
No, or low, expectations of the child
Seems detached, distant or indifferent
|Authoritarian||Highly demanding of the child|
Not emotionally responsive
Applies harsh rules
Not in tune with the child’s emotional or developmental needs
Communication is mostly from parent to child, not vice versa
Doesn’t value the child's views and opinions
Doesn’t discuss reasons for rules and natural consequences of behaviors
Very rigid style of parenting
Believes that kids should be seen and not heard
Which is the Most Positive Parenting Style?
Research by Dr. John Gottman shows that the ability to manage feelings and emotional awareness counts more than IQ in determining the future success and happiness of a child.
Well-Balanced, High Achieving Children
Authoritative parenting is the style that is most likely to result in well-balanced, high-achieving children who can manage their feelings. It allows parents to build a platform where emotional awareness can be nurtured.
In fact, research shows children of authoritative parents are more self-reliant, socially accepted, academically successful, well-behaved, and independent than children raised by adults who use different parenting styles. (Source)
To raise well-balanced, strong individuals who can adapt and cope no matter what life challenges arise, parents need to tune into their children’s emotional needs. The authoritative parent does this.
The Line Between Flexibility and Firmness
Authoritative parents walk the line between flexibility and firmness.
These parents include kids in family discussions while providing guidance and setting limits. This will provide a sense of safety while still allowing some autonomy to the child, so they don’t feel like they are only there to be ‘seen and not heard.’
Consistently Enforce Agreed-Upon Decisions
One of the biggest mistakes parents make, even good authoritative parents, is being inconsistent in applying their rules to the kids.
Parenting together, even if you have very different parenting styles, means consistently enforcing decisions that you have agreed on while still remaining emotionally sensitive and allowing healthy family debates.
However, children are smart, and part of the developmental learning process is learning how to manipulate their environment in order to succeed. This is normal and natural developmental behavior and is in no way manipulative or underhanded on the part of the child.
Show a United Front
An even more harmful approach to parenting that I often see is when parents don’t show a ‘united front.’ Undercutting or disagreeing with a parenting decision in front of the children causes insecurity in the child and opens the child up to manipulation and feeling alliance to one parent over the other.
While healthy debate or even occasional disagreements between partners can help children learn to deal with conflict in their own lives, parents need to make every effort to back each other up in front of the kids.
Try (hard!) not to undermine your partner. Two deeply connected parents who consistently present a united front can provide a secure platform for kids to grow emotionally.
Let’s say there’s a couple who set a ‘no ice cream before dinner’ rule. However, when their 5-year-old starts begging for just one scoop of peppermint ice cream before dinner, and one parent caves, the child will quickly learn which parent can be broken down to acquiesce. And the other parent is undermined.
While the child will enjoy the ice cream in the short term, the damage that small incidents like these can have on the child, as well as your relationship, can be immense and long-lasting.
So just like you might go to the gym to lift weights and build your muscles, practice, practice, practice being consistent, even if it’s very hard at first.
8 Steps to Resolve Different Parenting Styles
One of the most beautiful things about committed relationships is the fusion of two different personalities. Personality differences and upbringing make us who we are and how we view the world.
This process can be a highly bonding experience for couples. After all, you both love the children and want the best for them.
So what steps can you and your partner take to resolve different parenting issues?
1. Acknowledge the issue.
It is easy to sweep differences in parenting style under the carpet. After all, tomorrow is another day, and life moves on, right? Wrong. Resentment and feelings of alienation because of different parenting styles can drive a solid wedge between couples.
By acknowledging the issues, couples can work together successfully to negotiate the rocky road of parenthood.
2. Name your parenting style and explore where it came from.
Each person in the couple tends to a natural parenting style, often the same style with which they were raised by their own parents. Take turns looking at the list of attributes for each of the four parenting styles.
Each partner can explain to the other which style they naturally tend toward and why.
Note: If your partner says she is “permissive” but you think she’s more “authoritarian,” refrain from spitting out your disagreement. Instead, ask questions about why she finds herself permissive and remain curious.
3. Discuss the parenting style you both would like to use.
Have I convinced you that the authoritative style is worth using with your children? If so, then you can consciously help each other use more of this type of parenting.
If you do so, be conscious that parenting is hard and we all make mistakes. No one is going to be 100% authoritative. We might try but find ourselves falling back in our permissive or authoritarian ways.
The main point is to agree to try. You and your partner can set regular meetings to kindly evaluate how you are doing as a couple on the parenting front.
The key here is not to criticize your partner. Instead, offer encouragement for what they’ve done right and the efforts they may be making.
If your partner kindly shares a concern with the way you are parenting, try your best to open yourself to the feedback.
4. Set up some parenting rules.
Don’t assume that your partner has the same expectations of the children as you. If you want the kids to be in bed by 8 pm each night, but your partner thinks it’s okay that they go to bed when you do, make it a rule that you both agree to stick to.
If possible, try to compromise so that neither partner feels like they haven’t been heard. For example, you might make the rule 8 pm on school nights and 10 pm on weekends.
5. Commit to presenting a united front.
The most important thing you can do is to back up and support your partner in front of the children, even when you don’t agree.
Discuss the issue with your partner privately later. When you do, try your best to sound curious and not use an accusatory tone.
In this way, you can come to an understanding before you work together towards a compromise.
6. Be consistent with your rules and consequences.
If you and your partner have agreed that bedtime is 8:00 pm, then you need to enforce an 8:00 pm bedtime today, tomorrow, and next month, regardless of whether mom is home or dad is home or if the kids are home with a sitter.
Of course, there will need to be some times of flexibility such as vacations or holidays.
Being consistent also means being consistent with consequences. Let’s say you told your teen that if his math grade falls below a C, then he loses his phone for the quarter. Then he brings home a C-. You and your partner need to follow through with that consequence and take away the phone.
7. Be accountable.
If you mess up and things don’t go as expected, be honest with your partner and admit it. Parents often revert to defensive mode if they feel criticized for something relating to their children.
Acknowledge if you didn’t enforce the set rules or were unkind during an encounter. This will go a long way in strengthening the bond between you and your partner.
Remember, we all make mistakes sometimes. If your partner makes a mistake, try to react with curiosity rather than criticism.
For example, rather than say, “You were so mean to Sophie!” try to say something like, “Wow! It seems like you and Sophie were having a tough time in the kitchen. What was happening?”
8. Meet periodically to review and adjust the rules.
Perhaps scheduling a chat to review rules for the same day as you do the family budget will be a good way to make this a regular formal discussion regarding matters that may need review.
At the meeting consider questions like, “Is our 5-year-old mature enough to own a pet? Can our tween have an Instagram account? Is it time to get our teen a car?
Keep in mind that expectations, rules, and needs change as developmental stages change. What is an okay bedtime for a six-year-old probably won’t work when the child is 8 or 9.
And please, give yourself some grace. If you have a thirteen-year-old, you’ve been a parent for thirteen years, but it may be your first time ever parenting a thirteen-year-old!
Fusing Two Parenting Styles: Andy and Allison
As we said, disagreements about parenting can be discussed privately. However, in front of the kids, backing up your co-parent is the way to go.
Take Andy and Allison, for example. Andy was a permissive parent (“the softy”) and Allison was more authoritarian (“because I said so”).
When faced with their teenager who wanted to go to an unsupervised house party, Andy was more likely to cave while Allison felt abandoned and left to look like the “uncool” parent.
But Andy felt like Allison was too harsh, telling their teen, “Of course, you can’t go. That’s against the rules. End of discussion.”
Negotiate with Your Partner
I worked with Andy and Allison to help them negotiate how to resolve situations like these. Once Andy could name his natural parenting style – permissive – he could also see how it left Allison on her own and caused her significant anxiety.
And once Allison could name her natural parenting style – authoritarian – she realized that it not only hurt her teen’s emotional connection with her but also she could see why Andy viewed her as “harsh.”
Working together, I helped Allison and Andy see that a more authoritative parenting style would work better for them as a couple, and for their teenager.
Consider How Your Parents Raised You
Once we discussed how Andy and Allison were raised, it became apparent why each had adopted their particular parenting style. This fostered empathy between the two of them.
And although Andy and Allison tried to use a more authoritative style moving forward, they each realized that under stress it’s common to fall back on the parenting style they naturally tended to.
Next time their teen insisted on going to a party (where Andy and Allison suspected no parents would be around), they had an in-depth discussion with their child about why he wanted to go so badly, what would happen if there was underage drinking, what would be the consequences for his record if the police showed up, etc.
By the end of the discussion, the party didn’t even seem so appealing to their teen.
Andy and Allison re-affirmed that their son wasn’t allowed to go to the party, but they offered him some enticing alternative plans – movie tickets – that he could use that night with a friend.
Strengthening Relationships with Different Parenting Styles
When partners explicitly and intentionally discuss their parenting styles, they can work together and present a unified front to their children.
This fosters both a healthier emotional connection between parents, as well as nurtures the child by preventing the child from playing one parent against the other.
Instead, when there is open communication and mindful parenting, both parents can be empathetic to the child’s needs while remaining flexible yet firm.
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