Parenting is tricky enough, but when you and your partner or co-parent disagree on how to handle parenting challenges, it can make things more stressful.
Fighting or showing your annoyance in front of kids—or giving kids inconsistent rules and feedback—can really ramp up problem behavior in kids, and erode their sense of security at home. It’s important to find ways to get on the same page, both for the sake of your relationship with your partner/co-parent, and for your kiddo’s wellbeing.
Think of it like this: There’s actually nothing wrong with having different parenting philosophies. If you communicate respectfully about it, you can both learn from each other and strengthen your parenting skills as a result.
5 tips for getting on the same parenting page
Don’t fight in front of kids
Instead, come up with a signal that means you need to table the issue for now, until you talk to your partner in private. Then, if one of you thinks the other is getting too angry to continue the discussion in a productive way (like, they start yelling or going off-topic), you find that you disagree about the seriousness of a child’s behavior, or you hit another roadblock, you can say your code word or do the special hand signal to indicate—without a confrontation—that it’s time for a quick time out. If you ever need a third opinion about a disagreement, ask a family therapist or pediatrician, NOT your child.
Set aside time every week to discuss parenting approaches
Think of it as a team effort where you’re each offering up (and listening to) possible solutions. You can keep a running list of all the issues and questions that have come up related to the kids in the past week, and use this time to talk about how they might be addressed; it’s much easier to have a calm, rational discussion about even the most heated topics when no one feels ambushed by a spur-of-the-moment conversation.
You can also note topics that might be on the horizon for your kids soon (even if they haven’t come up yet) and decide how to respond, so you’re not caught off guard when your daughter asks for her own cell phone out of the blue. Here are some issues that can cause friction in parenting relationships, based on kid ages, to get you started.
- Potty training schedule/plan
- How to address lying
- How to handle tantrums consistently
- Sleepovers – Are they allowed to attend one? To host? Are there rules about meeting parents, asking about guns in the house or other safety issues, etc?
- Screen time – How long each day? What parental controls will be added and enforced, and who will be in charge of that? Are there places where devices aren’t allowed, like the bedroom?
- Talking to people online (in-real-life friends, family, online friends, strangers)
Decide on rules together
Before introducing a new rule or consequence to kids, come to an agreement with your partner. Include a plan for how to introduce the topic to the kids, and the best way to enforce the consequence if the rule is broken. Not only does this eliminate the opening for arguments down the line when you suddenly discover that you don’t agree what the rule or limit should be, but it also removes the guesswork from enforcement. Kids fight the consequence less because they were aware of the rule in advance, and parents are less likely to resent being the “bad guy” or the “strict one” because you already decided together what the outcome would be.
Show compassion when your partner makes parenting mistakes. At some point every parent has a misunderstanding or a really rough day—and sometimes that translates into yelling, overreacting, dismissing a co-parent’s opinion, or other parenting misstep. Discuss it calmly later, acknowledging that you both make mistakes and also sharing something that you think your partner is doing well.
Discuss topics you feel strongly about
It’s OK to have a certain hard line you just won’t cross because of your core values or needs. Maybe you feel really strongly that kids need chores to build character, or you’re against grounding kids to their rooms as a punishment, or you’re a stickler for an 8:00 bedtime because you need to wind down in the evening for your own mental health. Whatever you consider to be relatively non-negotiable, be sure to communicate that with your partner. Then make an effort to be more flexible in other areas.
Taking another adult’s perspective into account isn’t always as easy as it sounds, especially when it’s in relation to something we feel incredibly connected to—like raising our kids to be well-rounded, healthy adults! It can get even more complicated when you add in factors like financial stress, the invisible load of parenting, and other pressures parents face every day. By opening up the lines of communication with your partner—maybe even starting by sharing this article with them—you can both work together to create a more united, responsive, emotionally healthy parenting team.