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Parenting Styles — How to Stop Fighting and Start Working Together
Do you ever wonder how your parenting style changed from “parenting team” to “parenting competition”? Picture this: Your 8-year-old wants to see a new PG-13 movie that you know will be too graphic for him. You say “no” and at the same time your partner says, “sure.” You look at her in disbelief. You start arguing with your wife, while your son not only watches, but jumps in on her side with opinions of his own. How often do you find yourself arguing for your way in front of your kids?
When it comes to these parenting battles, how do you make decisions, possibly without arguing, certainly without arguing in front of your kids, and both feel valid and competent in your parenting?
The first thing you should realize is that you really are a team. Each of you has strengths and weaknesses that, ideally, cancel each other out. None of you are coaches. Both of you are team players. If the quarterback is getting ready to “go long” and the running back thinks they have planned the handoff, the team is in trouble. It’s time for you and your wife to get on the same page and become a parenting team.
Learning teamwork doesn’t happen in the heat of the moment, with your child watching him and figuring out his path – just like football teams don’t learn new plays in the middle of the Superbowl. Conscious teamwork means discussing and practicing, planning and trying new ways of being. This parenting thing is a lot of work, and to do it well, it must be done thoroughly. The key is to look at your personal parenting patterns, figure out why you parent the way you do, and then see what’s really best for each of your children.
So, if you find yourself in a cycle of arguing about competing parenting styles, set aside some time to sit down and do the following exercise together. It can be more fun than you think, and I know you can turn your parenting struggles into parenting successes with a little work.
Exercises for creating a parenting team:
1.) As a couple, write down two or three real-life examples of situations where your parenting styles differed and you found yourself arguing about a parenting issue (or not arguing and just feeling resentful and disempowered).
2.) For each example, write down each parent’s “default mode” of parenting. Maybe one parent is just more permissive and one is more protective. Perhaps one resorts to tantrums and yelling where the other resorts to passive-aggressive manipulation to get their way. What is your default parenting style?
3.) Next, ask each parent to examine his or her default style. This is a personal exercise. Look at what your parents were like and how each of your relationships with your parents shaped you as a parent. If you’re having trouble seeing the parenting patterns you’ve inherited, you can ask a sibling or even a close friend for some insight. If you’re still stuck, ask your partner if he or she has any suggestions. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our family “stuff” that we need fresh eyes to look at it.
4.) Now go back to the examples you listed. See how your default parenting style and the way you parented played out in the interaction. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about noticing your patterns. There is no right or wrong way to parent: there are good techniques and unhealthy patterns. Our job is to learn the former and let go of the latter. Here are some real life examples:
a Mom realizes that she tends to be more meek because she grew up in a very strict family and didn’t have a lot of fun with her friends growing up.
b The father realizes that he has a tendency to be rigid because he grew up in a chaotic home with few boundaries and wants to give his children a more structured home life.
c Mother realizes that she wants to be a friend to the children rather than a parent because she can avoid discipline that way. She’s had some discipline from her parents and doesn’t really know how to go about it.
d The father realized that his parents were too strict about the movies he watched and the music he listened to and was unconsciously carrying on.
5.) Now that you can look at your patterns and see how they play out in parenting challenges, go back to your examples and make some decisions. Take the example of the movie: Once a father realizes that he is putting forward a parenting pattern, he can decide whether it is really working for him. When we discover unconscious parenting patterns, we have a choice to let go or continue the pattern. The question to ask is, does this pattern work for my child? So Dad feels this pattern really works with the film. His son is prone to nightmares and wants to protect him from disturbing psychic influences. At the same time, the mother realizes that continuing the pattern of lack of discipline may not work for this child. She realizes that as he gets older, he’s more demanding and she needs healthy boundaries, and it’s time to learn how to be a parent, not a friend. (Remember, your kids have lots of friends, hopefully friends of all ages. You’re just their mom or dad, though, and you have to fulfill that role for them!)
So what if you do all of this work and still find yourself in an argument over a parenting issue? If you are honest and humble, this will not happen. When you can step back and let go of your patterns and your expectations, it becomes easier to see what is best for your child. Remember, it’s not about getting your way; It’s about raising healthy, strong children. All these small interactions add up to create your family dynamic. The more work you can do before these conflicts, the more peaceful and balanced your home life will be. And, the happier your kids are.
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