When Parents Disagree: What to do When You Clash With Your Partner on Parenting Style

Ideally, parenting style is something that all adults will discuss with their partners before they have children. As well as researching birth plans and nursery products, I truly believe that discussing parenting opinions is vital before the first baby arrives. Too many couples realize that they have opposing views on parenting several months or years down the line. So as well as writing a birth plan, parents-to-be should also write a parenting plan, thinking about common scenarios and how they might respond to them. I particularly love it when a pregnant couple attend one of my  gentle-discipline talks or workshops.
But what do you do if the differences in your parenting beliefs surface further down the line? First, you have to acknowledge your partner’s feelings and try to understand where they come from. Often, if somebody has been raised in a certain way (and says, “It never did me any harm”), for the other partner to say that they would like to do things differently is a bit of an insult to their in-laws. Acknowledging this is an important first step. Next, ask your partner (without judgment) why they feel the way they do and how they would deal with certain scenarios. Also, ask if they know of any research to back up their thoughts.

Once you have thoroughly listened to your partner, explain to them how you feel, why you feel the way you do, and offer a brief synopsis of any supporting research. Consider media they may like. Do they read blogs, magazine articles, or books, or do they prefer videos or podcasts? Perhaps they would do better with in-person learning, such as workshops. Be careful of the wording you use here. Don’t use accusatory language: “You’re really rough when you shout,” or, “When you did that it really scared her.” Instead, use “I” statements and clarify your emotions—“I feel uncomfortable when you shout at her,” for example.

The next step is to try to agree on tiny baby steps, rather than everything at once. Perhaps your partner will agree to change their language slightly and drop the word “naughty” or similar for a week or two. That’s enough to start with. Don’t try for too much too soon. The next decision could be to try to stop threatening punishments and instead use empathizing language. The beauty of gentle discipline is that results are fairly obvious. They may be slow (sometimes frustratingly so), but there will be a “breakthrough” moment that makes your partner think, Wow, that worked.

Deal with one issue at a time and maintain open (and nonaccusatory/ nonjudgmental) discussion throughout. It can also be really helpful to meet up with others disciplining the same way as you, particularly those of the same gender as your partner. Role modeling is very powerful and often many of us lack this when it comes to parenting.

This is a short excerpt from my Gentle Discipline book.  For more on parenting gently – with both of you on board – you can buy the book in the UKUSACanada and elsewhere in the world.


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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