When parenting styles collide, what does it mean for your relationship?

What do you do when you don't agree on even the basic stuff?

Life with a partner comes with its ups and downs. All relationships take work, but when you throw children into the mix, this can often get a whole lot more complicated.

Don’t get me wrong! In the majority of cases, the good definitely outweighs the bad. You share milestones, a whole range of firsts and lots of hugs and kisses, and years down the track you look back on those memories with a tonne of love and affection.

But what happens when the parenting styles of you and your partner differ? What does it mean, not only for your children, but also for your relationship? Such was the case for Mark and Gabi, a married couple living in the outskirts of Sydney, raising their two girls, aged 13 and 15.

She wanted open communication

Managing two full-time careers and the busy lives of their children was hard enough, but when their eldest daughter hit her teen years, things started to get difficult.

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“I wanted to keep the lines of communication open between our daughter and ourselves. Getting into endless arguments and power struggles with her was counterproductive, and I felt it was detrimental to our relationship with her,” Gabi shared.

Gabi had been raised in a family where arguments were rare, but discussions were common, where her parents were very open to ‘talking it out,’ and finding a middle ground.

Sad child on a swing, inbetween her divorced parents holding her separatedly .

Don't let your kids get stuck in the middle. Picture: iStock.

He wanted the kids to just listen

Mark, on the other hand, had been raised in a family where it was a common cultural practice for children to be seen and not heard. In his house growing up, Mark’s father was literally the head of the household.

“And look out for anyone who disobeyed or argued with him. He was never physical, but the consequences were always clear. Do what you were told, or consequences would follow,” he said.

And although Mark did not want this same level of strictness and on some level, emotionless relationship with his daughters, he did struggle with Gabi’s views of always entering into discussions and concessions with their teenage girls.

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Learning to work together

When asked about the effect that this had on their family dynamic, the couple spoke mostly of the effect that it had on their own relationship. “The girls expect the differing styles from each of us. They know us and to be honest, they probably choose which discussions to have with which parent. Kids are smart like that! It’s our own relationship that bears the brunt of our different approaches to parenting. We argue and fight about it all the time!”

And Gabi and Mark’s case is far from rare. There are so many differences within a relationship. It might be beliefs, backgrounds, personalities….the list is endless. So, why would you expect that your approaches to parenting would be identical? It’s an issue many of us struggle with, but there are a few things that we can remember to ease the strain that this can put on a relationship.

  • Look Back - It’s important for you to know where your partner’s beliefs and values around parenting come from and a lot of the time, this can be done by having some open discussions around your own upbringings. Just like Gabi and Mark, different approaches often arise from some deeply ingrained cultural or historical practices in your own family’s history. If you understand how each of you were parented, what you liked and didn’t like about the way your parents dealt with you, you may gain some insights and understanding around each other’s current approaches.
  • Be Flexible - Would you expect your partner to listen to your point of view and your reasons as to why you are choosing to react to a parenting situation in a particular way? Then you should really give them the same courtesy. This does not mean that you are abandoning your own values and beliefs, but it does mean that you are recognising that you and your partner are different and that this is ok. Being open to the discussion means that you have the views of two people that only want what they believe is best for your child, and that can only be a good thing!

Remember that discipline is not punishment. Enforcing limits is really about teaching kids how to behave in the world and helping them to become competent, caring, and in control.

  • Talk, Talk, Talk - It’s ok for you to have differing opinions and parenting styles, as long as you can reach some sort of middle ground or common understanding. I’m not talking about the heated discussions around why you think you should go with either parenting style. I’m talking goal setting. That’s right, set some goals! What do you want for your child? What are your priorities as an individual, as a couple and as a family? When you both have a clear vision of what you want for your child, it is much easier to have the trickier conversations about how to go about it.
  • Don’t Let it Take Over - Don’t forget about yourselves. Your approach to parenting your children is a big deal, but there are so many other facets to your relationship that need to be nurtured. When kids get added to the mix, it’s hard to not let your relationship become all about them. Couples often find that this issue becomes the main focus of their relationship, and they forget that there is so much more to their partnership than just how they parent their children. Don’t forget to nurture your role as partner, just as much as you nurture your role as parent.

Gabi and Mark are parents of teens, and that in itself comes with a whole myriad of challenges. What they have learnt as they stumble along this parenting road, is that they are in it together. How you choose to parent your children is a massive part of the journey, and a tough part at that, but we are all stumbling through it together. No right, no wrong…..just trips and stumbles as we make our way through!