Help, my spouse has a different parenting style. What should I do? Won’t my children be affected? My spouse thinks that parenting comes naturally.
In every parenting course I teach, this is a common concern. When one parent begins to explore more effective communication skills for parenting, sometimes their spouse can feel unsettled by the changes.
For some, the changes feel like a threat or a criticism of their parenting style or even of the way they were parented. They say, “I turned out alright.” Of course, this is natural to feel unsettled when someone you love begins to change.
So how can parents support each other rather than feel attacked or pressured to change? After all: “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
The ideal would be if both parents were on the same page in terms of parenting methods. The reality is we are individuals with different needs and values. Parents are told they must have a united front. Again the reality is that to do so would be false and children quickly recognize this.
Below are some ideas if you wish to influence your spouse’s parenting style and at the same time accept your differences.
1. Discuss calmly and with interest each other’s parenting goals when you are relaxed and happy. Really listen to your spouse rather than merely to come up with your next response of attack. (The questions below will help this discussion).
2. Role model the parenting methods you think are important. Your spouse will see the positive interactions you are having with your children.
3. If you are learning new parenting skills and still in the early stages of changing:
A) Share with your spouse why you are doing the parenting course. Share that you want to be the best parent you can be. Share that you are still learning the skills and would appreciate support in the early stages. You are doing this because you love your spouse and you love your children.
B). Share the same with teenagers or pre-teens who are old enough.
C) Encourage your spouse (and teens who are interested) to read the parenting book. An audio version of the book has worked well for many parents either listening together or while travelling for the busy spouse.
4. If your child tries to “play you off,” you can be supportive of your spouse’s needs by saying to your child: “That is not a problem for me but it is for your mother/father right now, and his/her feelings are important to me, so you need to find a different solution.” Of course, you can then assist your child to work out a solution.
Our proactive decision to parent in a certain way is underpinned by our values and core beliefs about how we want our children to grow up. If we have never taken the time to think about this then we end up parenting reactively based on the absorbed values or core beliefs of our parents and society. Do you really want this? In my opinion what appears natural is learned and needs to be questioned and refined.
A great starting point for parents to open up helpful discussion about parenting styles is to answer two questions:
1. What characteristics would I like my children to have by the time they reach adulthood?
2. What characteristics are important for me to be the best parent I can be?
Independently record your responses then share. You will probably be surprised how similar your responses are.
Next, ask the important questions: Is the way I am currently parenting bringing out the characteristics I want for my child and for me as a parent? What would I like to change?
Parents often fear losing control of their children and often try to control with punishment and authoritarian means.Using controlling parenting methods often leads to children rebelling against parents sooner or later. Using controlling methods to change our spouse likewise leads to a defensive or rebellious response. Choose positive energy to be a role model and a consultant to your spouse rather than nagging them to change with negative energy.
In the Parent Effectiveness Training course (www.gordontraining.com), parents learn skills to effectively handle their different feelings with each other and their children.
Kathryn Tonges is a Beijing-based P.E.T. parenting expert and co-author of Slurping Soup and Other Confusions: true stories and activities to help third culture kids during transitions.
To find out more, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.