When Partners Have Different Parenting Styles

Most parents use one of four common parenting styles: authoritative, with high expectations and lots of warmth; authoritarian, with strong rules; permissive, with lots of warmth and not many rules; and uninvolved, or neglectful, parenting, with little warmth and few expectations. It’s common for partners to have different styles. But parental disagreements about expectations, discipline, and other aspects of child-rearing can leave children feeling confused and insecure.

The solution? Learn to parent as a team, despite your differences. These tips can help: 

Find common ground. Children feel more secure when parents set reasonable rules and present a united front. In contrast, they may feel confused and have behavior problems if the rules are different or when parents undermine each other. Stop the confusion by privately discussing with your partner areas where you don’t agree and reaching a compromise.

Communicate regularly. Take time every day to talk about current family issues, needs, and schedules. Make sure to set aside time for discussing larger concerns and long-term plans, too—like changing bedtimes, raising allowances, or giving children more responsibilities and privileges as they get older.

Don’t put the kids in the middle—or let them divide and conquer. You want to take your son to the library on Saturday morning; your spouse wants to take him for a hike. Find ways to compromise and cooperate, rather than arguing over whose plan came first or is best. Keep in mind the real priorities: A happy family life and the opportunity to be role models for respectful problem-solving. Similarly, don’t permit children to play one parent against the other. That can increase tension between parents.

Disagree behind closed doors. You don’t have to agree with all of your partner’s parenting ideas. But don’t talk about it in front of the kids, and don’t interrupt and interfere while your partner is disciplining your children. That undermines your partner’s authority.

Support and understand each other better. Talk about what you like about each other’s parenting styles, how you can support each other, and any aspects of parenting where you each need improvement. For more insight, delve deeper into your own childhoods and how your own parents’ styles influence your own.

Take a class together. Many communities offer parenting education programs. Research shows that they can make parents more effective.

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