AND… when your parenting style becomes an issue
It’s one of the biggest myths around parenting… that both parents must have the same parenting style and be consistent.
It totally gets in the way of your relationship with each other and for really good reasons too.
Let’s look at 3 reasons why it’s absolutely impossible to expect both parents to approach parenting their children the same way or even consistently!
1 – Different background experiences and expectations
Unless you married your identical twin (which is pretty illegal the last I heard) then both of you have sprouted from two very different sets of parents, parenting styles and childhood experiences. One of you may have had very authoritarian parents who were strict, “let them cry” kind of approach and tough on “dishing out the love” (a “toughen them up!” approach). Perhaps the other had more laid back parents who didn’t yell or use their power to control, maybe they even gave you free-rain.
Coming together to parent and then finding a happy medium between the two parenting styles can prove virtually impossible when there’s such diversity in our childhoods.
You both have different experiences and you’ve both had to live with different parent expectations.
Often parenting doesn’t start with a discussion on what you want to take from your own parent’s approaches and what you want to leave behind. It’s a really good conversation to have and you can set some values in place but keep in mind… when one of you is triggered (made angry or scared) then you will revert back to what you’ve experienced as a child. It’s automatic and unconscious and can only be overcome with some gentle reprogramming (which you can read about below).
The other factor that impacts your ability to parent is your moment-to-moment expectation. For example, being at home and joking around the kitchen table may make it totally fine for your child to call you a silly name… doing that in front of the school teacher may make it not OK at all! We have different expectations depending on the child, environment and even how we are feeling in that moment. Often what is OK in the morning (for a child to get away with) is not OK later at night when you’re tired, fed up and over this parenting business.
2 – Children need to learn that not all relationships are the same – each one requires negotiation
You will not find a SINGLE household where the parenting style is the same and yet children survive. We, as parents, need to help them discover that each relationship is a negotiation… Each person they meet will have a set of rules by which makes the relationship work well or become challenging and maybe even end. That is no different between mum and dad.
This is not a bad thing! It helps build negotiation skills in children and we can help them to explore that world by encouraging them to notice the differences between you both. One of the best ways of doing this is prompting the child to think about what would work in the relationship. For example, if a child wants to negotiate something to eat, rather than one parent sneaking the snack in because they know the other will say no (and they think it would be OK), discuss the issue openly as a group and tease out what the issues are and say “how can we work this out for everyone?” This encourages a dialogue rather than manipulative or power plays.
Also helping the child manage the relationship with the other parent can bring about understanding and empathy towards the other person. For example, if mum is firm on no snacking this close to dinner, then reaffirming with the child the reasons why, “mummy wants to make sure you get to eat a good dinner and she’s also put time and effort to getting it made, so if you snack and then are not hungry then she will feel frustrated”.
Helping the child see the world from both parent’s eyes helps them connect to others and understand relationships. The primary relationship are with the closest members of the family.
3 – Attachment occurs differently for each parent, and that’s just how it is
How our children act towards each parent sometimes differs depending on how much time the baby gets to spend with both parents. Often, during the early years, only one parent is regularly and consistently available to the child (due to work commitments) and therefore the bond to that consistent parent is more solid and secure for them. This can mean that the baby behaves differently towards the other parent and will often seek the reassurance of the consistent parent, because they are more secure with them, in times of distress.
This means for us parents that we struggle with approaching stressful situations with the same parenting style, because through trying to help the child remain calm or regulate their overwhelming emotions, we often deploy different strategies and approaches that work just for that parent! These approaches are also different because we fall back on what works for us as an individual, with that child, in that situation. For example, getting a child to sleep for one parent maybe as simple as putting them to bed, while the other parent needs to hold them to get them to settle.
In co-parenting we tend to accept these differences because that’s just how it is! So it makes sense not to demand that our partner do it exactly how we do it for the whole of the child’s life… we’ve developed a different bond… negotiated a different relationship with the child.
When you look at it that way, what is crazy is when that different parenting style is not seen as a viable option all the way through the child’s development… what works for you does not mean it works for your partner… so give them the space to find what works for them… within some reasonable boundaries.
When your parenting style becomes and issue
Where the big issue lies is when one parent is parenting in a way that clearly doesn’t respect the rights of the child, potentially doing damage to the child’s developing sense of self, and where the child is put into a constant state of survival mode around the parent (fight, flight, freeze and faint). When the child feel’s unsafe and potentially fearful of the parent, then that is a big issue… for both parents.
Generally this kind of authoritarian, power over, scare tactical approach is extremely detrimental to child development and needs to be addressed. Often the parent is following on from their own childhood experience and from that experience, has totally shut off from how they were (and their child) is impacted… just so they survive in the moment. The damage can be devastating to the brain and they (the abusive partner) are just as much a victim of this old approach (which was very much culturally acceptable for many years). So be kind to the other parent but firmly let them know that it’s not on and they may need help to overcome their damaging approach.
Help is in the form of getting in touch with their compassion and empathy skills and reprogramming the brain (for the parent) so that those old feelings are no longer buried but are released safely and new ways of responding can be embedded. Who can help? A family therapist who incorporates the integration between the emotional and logical brain such a gestalt therapist, an experienced EFT therapist or a Family and Systemic facilitator. You can contact me for assistance, even if you’re not local in my area, as I often work with parents via Skype.
If you suspect this is happening in your family, then get onto it as soon as you can, so that you can break the cycle of negativity and your children can feel safe with both of you.