A common challenge parents have is what to do when two partners cannot agree on things like discipline styles, communication methods or co-sleeping.
The most stark difference I have seen is when one parent does not spank the children, but the other does. Regardless of my opinion on spanking, which you can read about here, this parenting difference is bound to cause problems.
I often see parenting challenges arise when the children become toddlers—the months where motionless babies who smile at anything become little ones who hit siblings and throw food. When a child is about nine months old, it is a good time to sit down with all the primary caregivers to discuss parenting goals and priorities.
The other challenging time is at the start of the teen years. If there has been a history of non-democratic parenting, a teen child might start sneaking around and telling lies. When teens do not believe their parents are open enough to listen or will be too hard to talk to, their behaviour can become wild. Parents who can't agree on how to respond to this might push their teen further away.
Here are suggestions to get you and your partner on the same parenting page:
Create a clear family vision.
Spend some time with your partner discussing your hopes as a parent. Break down your daily life and decide how you plan to get through transitions and the tough stuff. If you both don't really know what your vision is, take some time to think about what kind of adults you hope your children will be. One parent told me she just hopes her children "won't be a**holes"—you might want to be more specific than that.
Make a plan.
Work together to decide things like your discipline strategy, bedtime routine, and how to get out the door on time. Write down the steps and their order so partners and other caregivers can see it. When my kids were toddlers, I had lists all over the house. The bedtime and naptime plans were posted on the fridge so no matter who was taking the child to bed, the same order of events happened (well, usually happened).
Chat about everything—breakfast, forgotten backpacks, and homework routines.
Decide as individuals what your "deal breakers" are, and what can give a little.
We teach our children to "use your words," so I encourage parents to be clear on what can or cannot happen in their home. If one parent has a deal breaker (like spanking, for example) that the other refuses to stop, it is time to bring in professional help. When one parent is being railroaded by another on something she/he feels is really important, that parent needs to find her own words, and take action to be heard.
Two adults coming together to raise a family did not grow up in the same household and thus have different experiences of what it is like to be a kid. Some adults might have heavy feelings about their childhood and some might have extreme thinking as a result of being raised with extreme parenting. It can feel hard to discuss the challenges we bring into a relationship, but these discussions will make a big difference in how the family functions. If one parent feels her or she isn't being heard by the other, or is feeling overwhelmed, consider seeking help from a trusted psychotherapist or counsellor to off-load the intense feelings and learn communication skills.
Turn toward your partner, not away.
Please remember that you and your partner are both are on the same team; that you both love your children and want the best for them.
I first came across the term "turn towards your partner" from John Gottman & Nan Silver's book WHAT MAKES LOVE LAST? I recommend this book—there are many valuable communication strategies within the pages. It is so easy to get upset at our partner and run to someone else with complaints. This little mantra reminds adults to go to their partners first to share their concerns. This book teaches partners how to disagree or argue well.
I'd like to thank Vicki Hoefle, author of DUCT TAPE PARENTING for sharing her insight into how her and her husband brought two different families with two different styles together. Some of her suggestions were woven into the list above.
You are welcome to come over to my facebook page where I continually post free parenting help.