Parenting Styles Clash: Dealing with Parenting Differences Constructively
If you are in a relationship and parenting children together, you are inevitably facing parenting differences. Unless you married your clone. And that’s creepy. I have a whole section on parenting. And one on partnering. Some overlap, yes?
My husband and I are about as similar as can be on most things that matter–which is probably why we chose to be together. We’re on the same page religiously, spiritually, activities in common, values in common, both lawyers, love of cultivating the earth and our children’s green personhoods, raising and caring for the whole child. He laughs at my dumb jokes, eats my failed meals, and nestles our notoriously awful sleeper, SweetPea at all times of night to help with her post-year-old night weaning. He’s ah-mazing. Even so, we do have different ideas on certain aspects of parenting. Or just different levels of awareness.
It seems to me that looking at our squabblings and hearing about others, it boils down to about 4 main styles that clash:
Usually in a relationship of two people, one is more keenly aware of time than the other. Maybe you’re with Mr. Punctuality and you’re Mrs. Punctuality. More likely, one of you is tapping your watch than the other. This is more likely than having two laid back people. Because at some point in life, you really do suffer from being late to everything. Life teaches us that if we are chronically oblivious to time, we will lose something we wanted, an opportunity to see a friend at a meeting, a donut that’s popular at the tiny neighborhood bakery on Saturday mornings, etc.
My example: I am with the children 12 hours+ a day. When it’s bedtime, I’m ready for them to have their own private beds (though we cosleep for the first many months when they’re tiny). I am ready for them to have a little quality time with their Dada when he gets home. And I am ready for lights to be out by 8pm. That’s a pretty standard bedtime for an almost 3 and a 1 year old. It’s a little later than some, but certainly not too early. Kids need lots of sleep.
Sometimes AA spends a long time with SuperBoy to get him to go down. I could be done nursing SweetPea–which is about a 20 minute affair–and they could still be reading, not to last-potty-of-the-night-brush-teeth-stage-say-prayers-near-bed-part. Often when this happens, I’m irritated because I want to begin the part of the evening where I get to see my husband, talk to him, clean up the kitchen together, just be together. No kids.
His example: I’m late to church. Every time. We never make it with time to spare. I always sleep in on Sunday mornings, then get around to nursing SweetPea down for her nap too late, then have to quick do a costume change, then say thanks to my mom for watching her, then dive into the car so we can make it to the 10am mass. Somehow, every Sunday, it’s a surprise to me that eating my bacon at 9:35 means we will be late. I mean, how do I not get it by now?
Solution: Flexibility and prioritizing. I remind myself that a strict bedtime isn’t important–it’s important that they get time together in the evening. To be fair, I need my AA time too, so we both need to be more compassionately flexible to meet the other person’s needs. As for his example, I need to make a conscious effort to plan my Sunday mornings better. It’s not about what time we squeal in to the church parking lot–it’s that it’s stressful to him that we’re always tromping down the aisle when things have already started.
I’m talking house, kids, yard, the whole gambit. Some people are very tidy. Some people are very neat. Some people are slobs. Most of us are in between–tidy when we need to be, sloppy when we can be. I never go to bed without the kitchen picked up, and most of the dishes down. Who can bear a dirty kitchen at 7am? But my bathrooms? Don’t look closely! They’re gross! And what about yard work? Garage organizing? Errand running? Who’s going to do what? Once kids enter the picture, remember that someone has to be watching them, or they have to be sleeping, or supervised as they “help” you in achieving the desired goal of a clean & organized life. Good luck.
And if your partner is staying home, he or she may look like me. A bit on the bedraggled side unless there’s an event to attend. Why would I put on makeup and jewelry to play with my kids all day? Why would I get into uncomfortable shoes? This can cause a clash if your not-at-home parent comes back to an uninspiring visage, day in & day out.
Solution: pick your battles & be giving to the other person. Consider what your partner’s limitations are, and consider what is necessary. Children need to be bathed. Sinks need to be washed. Someone has to empty the garbage can, and then rinse out the leftover yuckies in there. If one of you is taking care of the children more than the other, figure out what your job description is (I do nothing with cars or the garage or fixing anything that breaks). If both of you are working, consider spending some of your income toward an occasional cleaning crew or handyman if that will help with the fighting. Otherwise, make a chore chart? Oh, yeah, and moms at home (dads too): be kind to your loved one. If you want to have more children, better clean up a little or the chances aren’t great in that department ;}
3) Levels of concern over health, layers of clothing, amount of sleeping, crying, wounds, etc.
I want my kids layered up. I want them to always use the toilet at home before we ever go anywhere, and then use it again when we return, just in case. I want them to have two naps a day until a certain age, and then quiet time in the morning, and an afternoon nap. I don’t believe in crying-it-out until after 9-12 months of life. And if something’s wrong, I want my dad who is a doctor to examine them immediately. And then I want to call my awesome family practice doc. I’m an over-doer. Somedays.
AA lets SuperBoy be outside with just a baseball hat on! He doesn’t make him go try to go potty before we go places! He is okay about letting naptime slide, or shortening it if it appears merited! He is on board with the no-crying. But that’s a common source of tension with parents–CIO or no? Bed-sharing or no? And he’s cool with my medical paranoia and regular insistence that my dad take a look at things–which could get really old, really fast. We squabble about layers of clothing, timing of toileting, and regularity of sleeping. Not all the time, but sometimes.
Solution: go with the person who wants to overdo it. Why? Because children get really cold really fast, have accidents because no one reminded them to go to the toilet, and are monsters the day after a day of poor naps. And if you’re the parent who’s home, then you’re the one who sees the monster in full bore.
4) Level of involvement or interactions.
Parents fight over who is going to spend time taking care of the children, especially at night. As it goes, babies don’t stop needing parenting just because the sun has gone down. Who’s up tonight/this week? Who is going to cancel their day to pick up a sick baby or child from daycare or school? Who has more flexibility?
As for at-home interactions, I hear some of my friends share that their husband comes home and is too tired to meaningfully play with the little ones. He wants to watch TV. He wants to unwind from a stressful day. The moms want to limit screen time and make daddy interact. So then the fight is about who’s done more with the kids. More often, I hear moms share that they’d prefer for the dad to do a specific thing with the child, and he wants to–example–have the baby in the carrier while he’s putzing outside, or have the little one along while he’s organizing something. He doesn’t want to play Candyland. He wants the child involved in his activities, not he involved with theirs.
For us, I have to remember not to micromanage AA’s relationship with the kiddos. If they do want to play Candyland 80million times and not fix the leaky garbage disposal, that’s great. If he wants to elongate dinner by reading books while eating, talking about pictures, and listening to the baseball game–that’s fine. I can finish eating, clean up, and do other things while they keep going.
Solution: agree to fixed expectations of behavior–what’s acceptable to both parents. Then let the rest fall where it will. Women are great at offering opinions and men at offering solutions. We love to manage and they love to do. Remember that our children will learn more about relationships from watching us with our beloved than from all the advice we tell them. Be loving, from the get-go. And give your loved one the benefit of the doubt that they’re coming from a place of love. If they are operating from a place of hurt because of their life experiences, consider couples’ counseling to help understand and bridge the communication barriers and defenses we set up over time.