When Parents Have Different Styles

My husband Jon and I have different parenting styles. I would say that we agree on most of the big stuff – for instance, neither of us are in favour of spanking our kids. But when it comes down to specific situations, and the day-to-day nitty gritty of dealing with two small children, we often have different approaches. Or maybe, sometimes, one of us just has more patience at the moment. Either way, our kids learned early on that you can’t expect Mom and Dad to react the same way most of the time.

Some experts suggest that our different approaches might be a problem. This wisdom states that the children will use our differences to drive a wedge between us and manipulate us, or that because our parenting lacks consistency our kids will be confused and insecure. And I suppose those things could happen, but honestly, I’m not all that worried. In spite of my best efforts I’m not even super-consistent with myself. I forget what I said yesterday, or I’m in a bad mood, or the circumstances are slightly different. If I can’t even maintain the same approach in all situations on my own, how can I expect two totally different people to do any better?

My babies and me
The kids and me

The reality of my life is that my husband and I do not have uniform views on most topics. I enjoy costume dramas, and he enjoys documentaries. I enjoy spicy food, and he enjoys peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I am a crunchy granola mom, and he will watch any sport on television, no matter how obscure. Sometimes I read blogs where people talk about the things that their family believes and does, and I wonder if their husband, like mine, finds the compost bucket vaguely distasteful and would rather eat fast food than lentils. Is their family really all on the same page?

I am not asking this question maliciously, I assure you. If you have found someone who shares your view on pretty much every topic, I think that’s fabulous. Having a shared vision and a strong sense of purpose can really help you to see where you’re going in life, and enable you to work together. I’m not discounting these things, and I would be lying if I said that Jon and I had nothing in common. But it would also feel like lying to me if I said that my family enjoys shopping in thrift stores, since no one but me particularly enjoys either shopping or thrift stores.

Jon reading to the kiddos
The kids and their dad

To bridge our parenting differences, Jon and I have had some discussions and agreed to an overall approach – a theory of parenting, if you will. But, sadly, parenting is really not very theoretical. I can understand the theory very well, but my kids do not. Moreover, they don’t even really care. Parenting happens on the fly, in the moment and often in front of other people. So while I have confidence that neither of us will do something that the other one finds truly horrifying or unforgivable, I accept that Jon will not necessarily do or say what I would, or what I think he should.

I’ve decided, for now, that the differences are actually good for my kids. Learning to deal with different people is a life skill, after all. You can’t talk to your grandmother, your boss or your friends in the same way. For this reason, I choose to believe that failing to be on the same page as parents all the time might just be good for our kids. Switching things up and keeping them on their toes is least we can do, really, to set them on a good path in life. And so I will not sweat the little differences, I will embrace them.

What about you? How do you bridge the parenting gaps? And do you worry if you and your partner aren’t always ont the same page?

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  1. Jim and I were always on the same page in regard to the big things, so the kids knew where the lines were drawn.We learned over time about the value of consistency and a united front, as our kids were wily little critters. On the little, everyday issues, however, they became adept at playing to each of our weaknesses. Having a heart-to-heart talk with Mom would always guarantee a few more minutes before lights-out, for instance. Asking Dad how things worked guaranteed getting his focus off a scolding. Most children are brilliant at this kind of thing.As to agreements, I doubt that there is much other than basic values that Jim and I automatically agree on. Our whole married life has been a series of , "You want to do WHAT?" So, over the years, we have fascinated and horrified each other by our differences.(We can't even agree on the same radio station in the car, so have to take turns!) But. What we have become is Master Negotiators. We can work out anything, because we are so used to doing it. Sitting down, sighing at the craziness of the other's point of view and then working it out has been a given in our marriage. We have even learned to be somewhat civil about it, although that has taken years!So maybe being different offers a wonderful example of tolerance and acceptance to children.They learn that there is no one "right" way to be or operate in the world. And if they can learn good conflict resolution skills, that's all to the good, right?

  2. Hi Amber,
    Your posts always get me thinking. I think most co-parenting is based on similar morals and values, probably the same ones that brought you together as a couple. Nobody is going to be the perfect parent or the perfect contrast to the other parent although I don’t see the harm in striving for this. We won’t even know how effective our parenting skills are until the kids are grown and they tell us how great or awful we were…lol. That said, I find my parenting style a lot stricter than my husband’s style – he is very laid back – so I guess we are a good contrast. When someone needs to lay down the law, it’s usually me (“Tegan stop screaming RIGHT NOW”). And sometimes I need to take a page from his book and lighten up. Give both of us the same situation and we’ll handle it differently – if I don’t agree with how it’s handled I’ll mention it (“Donny, do you think spraying the can of whip cream into your mouth was a good example to the girls?”). lol

  3. Awesome post!

    I don’t agree with the “experts” who think it could be bad when parents disagree – in fact, I see the opposite view. My kids have learned that adults can agree to disagree and still respect each other’s differing opinions, plus they’re exposed to a more diverse influence from which to draw their own conclusions.

    My husband and I are soooooo different, lol, and yet we meet in the middle somehow. I think this is a great lesson for our kids.

  4. Another great post Amber. It touches on a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately, particularly as we start to navigate our way through discipline with our 3-year-old son. Like you we agree on the big things, but my husband tends to be more tough and less lenient with my son, whereas I prefer the touchy-feely approach. Problem is, that’s not working for me. I think I need to get with my husband’s program. The key for me is to learn when to discuss things with my husband, I usually need to tell him I disagree with an approach right away. That’s a sure way to encourage our oldest son to divide and conquer. Point is, it’s important to step back and remember that no way is the absolute right way so differences in the household are probably the most healthy way. I’m rambling because I could go on and on! I really enjoyed this post.
    .-= Christine LaRocque´s last post ..Panic is setting in =-.

  5. I always thought it was beneficial for children to have two parents so that they could have two different adult role models in their life. Sure, a child can get by just fine in life with a single parent, but I see it as an added bonus to have an extra role model in your life.

    I think what the “experts” might be referring to is that it can be easier for children to understand what is appropriate and not appropriate if both adult role models don’t reinforce the same messages. So, like you say, if both you and your husband teach your children the value of never hitting another person — you’re on the same page (the big picture page, that is). If one parent did spank and the other didn’t, the child would just adapt as you noted and know what to expect. But the value underscoring “not hitting others” might get lost.

    My husband and I are completely opposite in temperament, preferences, likes and dislikes. I see it as such a blessing for the kids that they can have a parent who is playful and rambunctious as well as a parent who is a book worm and always ready to discuss feelings.

    I love your posts. So thoughtful and thought-provoking!

  6. I agree with you. While sure, sometimes I tried to pull the stunt of asking the parent I thought would give me the answer that I wanted, my parents were usually on the same page enough that that didn’t work. They agreed on the same big parts of parenting and I think that really, that’s what’s important.

    I also think, as one of the posters mentioned above, that having two parenting styles can help open you up to new ideas of what might work for your children and your family. Each child is different and will need different approaches. While my parents’ parenting philosophy was the same, my mother’s parenting style worked great for me, but my brother responded much more to my father’s style and my parents taught each other what to do. Now my father has died and my mom says she wishes he were here to help her parent my sister.
    .-= Maya´s last post ..First Bite =-.

  7. Jasie VanGesen says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with you, Amber. Seth and I differ in many way in how we parent Silas, but I feel that as long as we are on the same page in the basic theory of how we want to parent, we’re doing good. Plus, I think that anytime you stumble upon parents who analyze this stuff as deeply as you do, that we must be doing alright just based on the fact that we care so much…. y’know? We must be doing a decent job or we wouldn’t even be thinking so deeply about all this.

    Since Silas gets visitation with his dad and step-mom on the weekends, I have to be ok with some level of difference in parenting… he’s essentially got 4 parents, we’re never ALL going to be on the same page.

  8. Oh, my husband and I are completely in sync in all things. Snort.
    Me:”So your parents let you eat McDonald’s like, three times a week?”
    Him:”You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

    Can you imagine a mother and father who parented exactly the same all the time? Doesn’t that seem a little creepy? I have no qualms telling Matt when I think he’s being a butthead in his parenting style (I’m sure that comes as a great shock) and I grit my teeth and tell him when I think I’ve learned something from him (once in a great long while) on the parenting front. I do think it’s a problem when only one parent ever disciplines, or when they actively contradict each other, but this most likely indicates a deeper problem with a marriage. Small variations in parenting style are not going to scar a child. When they’re teenagers and I hang around telling adorable stories about when they were two and liked to run around naked except for one sock — that’s what’s going to scar them.
    .-= Allison´s last post ..***********Let Nothing you Dismay =-.

  9. I actually think it’s better for kids to have parents/ caregivers that are different. I’ll also admit that I do resort to spanking- sometimes when I am at my wits end and unfortunately it works. My son usually settles down and does what I have been asking him to do. I don’t like it, I’d be the first to judge someone else spanking and I feel aweful after, but right now I have a sleeping child who I negotiated with for an hour, then spanked and snuggled and he’s out like a light. Maybe just skipping to the snuggles- but it seems he does better (with me) if he gets a little cry in then snuggles.
    I knew how to parent so well before I had children.
    Love the post. Glad to be back to reading blogs again! Hope you are well amber!

  10. Same with us. Big stuff is fine with parenting and finances and priorities. Little stuff, we really are very different!

    (I laughed about the thrift store thing, I am an avid hunter at my favourite thrift charities, and I don’t think my husband has ever stepped foot in them!)
    .-= *pol´s last post ..Something to Aspire to =-.

  11. We meet on the important stuff. Like bedtime is around 7pm.

    Other than that our approaches are fairly different. And yes, I do believe it’s good for the kid. I am far more stricter but will also engage in far more artistic, creative etc. stuff with her while my husband is not so strict but super silly and yesterday they went to the park to look for the end of the rainbow.

    We complement. x
    .-= Mel´s last post ..Best of 2009: Ad =-.

  12. This post is timely because I feel like I learned a great deal about my marriage, and our shared parenting, through doing this TLC/Discovery show. They asked us a LOT of questions about our parenting style, and whether or not we were on the same page all the time. What we discovered answering the questions is that we are on the same page completely. We only differ sometimes in our approach, but it’s not that our approaches are different, it’s that each of us seems to take on the role of the more patient one when we can see the other one is having a hard time. We’ve actually always been that way. I remember very early in our relationship, I always thought I was the stressed out, tense one, but then John got incredibly upset about something one of his friends did, and I swept in as the voice of zen and reason. We just see where the other one needs help in the moment, and we take on the duty.

    John and I do enjoy all the same things, and differ only slightly in our leisure activities. I’d rather blog while he watches a super obscure history documentary about some dead dude I’ve never heard of, but the one thing we agree on is that whatever we’re doing, we want to be in the same room doing it.

    However, I can say that most of the crunchy lifestyle we have was my influence. John goes along with everything I say, and then he acts like it was partly his idea, but really, it’s just him being agreeable. I’m quite positive that he’d be a very different husband with a different kind of wife. However it happened, though, I think our kids have a pretty good set of parents, and I’m sure your kids do too. 😉
    .-= TheFeministBreeder´s last post ..Day 3 of Filming — The End. =-.

  13. Amber, this is a great post! I have often wondered the same thing about my boyfriend. I eat mostly organic, and am passionate about my son doing the same, while Wilhelm (my boyfriend) could subside on hot wings and fast food in general.

    I want to limit the TV intake, while Wilhelm lets the TV stay on in the background while my son is playing.

    But ultimately, I believe you’re right. When our children see different parenting styles, they are being introduced to the fact that there are different kinds of people in this world. Let’s face it, the world is a heterogeneous place. We are not all the same, so why not let the teaching of this principle start in the home.

    Again, GREAT post!
    .-= Old School/New School Mom´s last post ..Filipina Magic =-.

  14. We agree on the big stuff, but vary on others. Like many of your earlier commenters, I think two examples of how to handle life can be helpful to kids.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..Grocery Cartography =-.

  15. Hi! I discover your blog today. With my husband, we share values. But sometimes, in the details, we don’t focus on the same things, and we don’t react the same way. I try really not to judge his ways, and if we need to talk about it, we find time without the kids. But I’m sure our education is even richer. We learn, (my DH, the girls and I) to respect each other’s emotions and views within the family! We grow together, not the same, but together. (please forgive my poor english, I’m french! 😉 )

  16. You surprise me everyday, Amber, when I come here and read an interesting and thought provoking post. The big lesson in life, I believe, is to respect other people’s differences (of opinion, cultural etc), and to work out healthy relationships with them and within a couple. Its a lesson that starts right in the family unit: within the couple, and in our relationship with our kids (we are not raising clones of ourselves, but individuals). Happy New Year to you and your family. It’s just possible that tomorrow when I wake up in the new year, it’ll be still the last year for you (are there any chances of sleeping in on January 1st, you think?)
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Popping a cork =-.

  17. This is really an important part of being parents, finding out how you parent and were you differ. The husband and I are pretty similar in our approachs. We talked a lot about how we wanted to parent before our daughter was born. I think that helped. And we both have different breaking points. I can be patient about certain things and he can be more patient about others. In the end I think we balance each other.
    .-= Capital Mom´s last post ..Two trees =-.

  18. Great topic. I totally agree, I think it is almost impossible to be on the same page all the time. Besides you & your husband likely have very different relationships with the kids and therefore it only makes sense to deal with them in ways that make sense for that relationship. I think the hardest part is accepting that there is more than one way to parent your children and your way isn’t the only ‘right’ way. At least that is the hardest part for me.

  19. Dominique McGrady says:

    My partner and I agree on having fun and being playful with our kids (I wish we did it more with eachother!). We read the book Playful Parenting and that helped me a lot. He already did many of those things and it helped me live the idea that our children aren’t just an inconvenience…they are the people we love dearly!
    Food choices and hockey are the big things we I mean I can get stuck on. Wow, sometimes I wish I could have an off button!

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  1. […] don’t know if Jon and I always share the same parenting philosophy. Probably not, although I would say that we have more or less reached a consensus on the […]

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