When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I spoke endlessly about the way we were going to parent. We discussed how we would always lead with kindness, be respectful of one another, and value our child’s emotions as well as each other’s. We planned to take time to listen, educate ourselves on best practice,s and have consistent patience no matter how chaotic things felt. Five years later with a spirited toddler and a stubborn preschooler, these conversations feel like a comedy skit we once performed. The reality is very different from the vision. Since those wistful conversations, I’ve learned that having children can rock even the happiest relationships.
On reduced sleep, limited self-care, and with constant overstimulation, couples can find themselves in a contentious parenting dynamic. This instability impacts their ability to connect, feel like a team, and positively influence their kids. Many parents realize the importance and influence of their relationship on their children, especially in the early years, but feel lost for what to do differently.
Parenting coach, Danielle Bettmann works with parents to unlearn habits ingrained from their own childhood to create new ways of communicating with their partner and their children. She helps couples get on the same positive parenting team, directly improving their relationship with one another, and their kids.
Here are some tips Danielle offered for aligning parenting styles to improve your teamwork and your relationship.
It’s important to recognize that parents want the best for their kids. Even if your partner has a different approach, their end goal of a happy, healthy, fulfilled child is very likely the same as yours. Your partner’s lived experience is different to yours; you didn’t grow up in the same family so it makes sense to have a different approach. They care about your child and are engaged in their parenting enough to discipline so although the tactic might be different than yours, know the desired result is the same and try to understand where they’re coming from. Ultimately, it’s up to you both to decide what is best for the child by listening to one another’s values and experience.
The same way you can’t reason with a toddler mid-tantrum, don’t try to convince a parent, mid-decision. As you approach times of transition like a holiday, a new baby or back-to-school, have a conversation with your partner ahead of time about how you’ll manage any big feelings your kids have. It’s your role as parents to decide the best plan and appropriate expectations for your child (or children). Agree upon boundaries, guidelines and create a plan. Then set a time to check in and re-evaluate. Anticipating discipline or development challenges and making decisions outside of the moment helps deliver an aligned reaction.
It is normal for parents to disagree in front of kids. But understand that the way you argue is modeling disagreement and conflict, and you know they’re listening. Try to keep discussions respectful and calm. Demonstrate resolution. Even if your fight is resolved behind closed doors, show your kids that you've made up and settled the issue, act it out if you have to. Talk them through the issue if it’s age-appropriate. If they don’t see the resolution to a disagreement, kids can hang on to the discomfort and sometimes feel responsible. So kiss and make up and ensure they’ve seen you do it!
There is a natural exposure imbalance to parenting information. Mother figures tend to read, listen, and be exposed to more advice and conversations. Instead of absorbing the advice, making conclusions about toilet training, and presenting it to your partner as the method you’ll use, get both parties involved in learning and research early on. Share articles and have conversations about what you’re learning. Decide together what tactics you’d like to try and why while respecting each other’s points of view. Exploring the way you were raised may influence your decisions in addition to the environment you’re raising kids in and the unique personalities and needs of those kids. Seek out resources, books, podcasts, coaches, etc. together and make educated decisions as a team.
It’s important to present the parenting unit as a team. Kids should know that parents will support one another and cannot be played against one another. If your partner agrees to one more show before bedtime, even if you would have said no, support that decision in the moment and discuss it later. Raising this disagreement in front of your kids diminishes credibility and promotes the good cop/ bad cop dynamic. Support one another wherever possible. Preventative planning and clear family expectations can help make this easier.
As much as you love your kids, you loved your partner first. Designate time to spend without family responsibilities so you can remember why you chose to become parents together in the first place. Take time away from parenting and have fun connecting with one another. Investing in your relationship is an investment in your family.
Hear more from Danielle Bettmann, early childhood educator, parenting coach, host of the Failing Motherhood podcast, and founder of Parenting Wholeheartedly here.