Author: Michael Grose


“My partner needs to hear this!”

This is typical of many comments I’ve been hearing lately from participants at my Anxious Kids workshops and seminars. It’s a healthy recognition that parent consistency is a significant element in successful parenting, particularly when facing a child’s behavioural or wellbeing challenge.

It’s also recognition that one of the biggest challenges for many couples is creating the same parenting storyline. It’s a common challenge.

You may be strict, while your partner is lenient. You may value family mealtime highly, while your partner is ambivalent about breaking bread as a family.

Differences in parenting are natural, reflecting past parenting experiences, gender differences and personal experiences of children. They are a sign of independent thinking and can provide a sense of balance to family life.

Parents who work together need to know when to compromise, when to keep out of the way and when to present a united front. Knowing when to take each approach takes practice and depends on the issues at hand, your parenting styles and your individual values.

Differences can be stressful

Different approaches can cause discomfort, stress and anxiety to one or both parents, particularly when communication and empathy levels are down.

In some cases, the differences can lead to inconsistent parenting where there is no agreement on rules and standards of behaviour and inconsistent follow-through when kids behave poorly. It’s like driving a car when there are two sets of road rules. There’d be accidents in the first five minutes.

Similarly, there is chaos in a family when there’s more than one set of rules. The rules and boundaries the govern children’s behaviour and family life need to be agreed upon.

Parents who work together need to know when to compromise, when to keep out of the way and when to present a united front. Knowing when to take each approach takes practice and depends on the issues at hand, your parenting styles and your individual values.

Creating the same storyline

Agreeing to the same parenting storyline as your partner takes work. It can be done whether you and your partner live together or not.

Here are some ideas to help:

Keep your partner informed
It helps if the primary parent can keep partners informed about what’s going on in children’s lives. These can include updates about behaviour, educational achievements and their general well-being.

Defer to your partner
Kids have a habit of putting their parents on the spot, particularly with issues such as going out or buying the latest fad. Rather than responding to children’s requests yourself, get into the habit of deferring to your partner. Not only does this keep your partner in the communication loop, it helps you work as a united front.

Share insights with your partner into your own childhood and family
These types of reflective conversations can lead to a deeper level of understanding and often reveal why you both feel strongly about different parenting matters.

Divide areas of responsibility
Don’t keep all the responsibilities to yourself. Bring your partner into the loop, and give them a share of the parenting jobs.

Communicate concerns to your partner about differences
Avoid disagreeing openly in front of the children. Find a time later to air any concerns you may have and generate alternate strategies or ideas for your partner to try.

Work out your family brand
In my book Thriving, I showed parents how to establish a strong family brand. That is, work out the type of family atmosphere you’d like to establish; the values and attitudes that are important to you; your preferred parenting style and identify the family traditions and rituals you’d like to nurture.

From my experience, parents can get away with parental differences when kids are young, however, it can become a big problem in adolescence. Some teenagers become adept at driving a wedge between parents who are on different wavelengths. They generally go to the parent who will give them the answer they require when it comes to the tricky areas such as going out, access to alcohol and relationship issues.

That’s why one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the consistency they experience when both parents work together using the same parenting storyline.


 

Kylie Wolstencroft
Wellbeing Coordinator / Registered Psychologist