If you and your partner have kids from previous relationships you know that this can sometimes be an uphill battle. The excitement of merging and creating a new family dynamic can set the tone for the rest of your relationship. But what happens if you have a different parenting style than your partner?
Well that doesn’t mean that a couple with differing opinions on parenting is doomed to fail. It does mean that ideally, you’re going to need to carefully plan and set expectations for your parenting style in advance.
Together is the keyword here: You’re in this together, and your parenting styles need to be relatively consistent in order for your kid to experience stability and clearly understand what is expected of them. Of course, some degree of inconsistency is normal and possibly but overall it’s important to be consistent on most major rules and attitudes to have the best possible experience in moving over this new stage in your life!
Communicating with Your Partner
Not sure how to start this conversation with your partner? Here are some questions to get you started:
- Will the baby sleep in a bassinet, or in your bed?
- If in a bassinet, for how long will you keep the bassinet by your bed before moving it to the baby’s own separate room?
- What will you expect of your child at different ages and stages? (For example, will you expect them to be able to be quiet and focus and study from a young age, or will you expect them to be loud and boisterous for a long time? Do you have particular educational or extracurricular expectations for them? Do you expect them to be like you in any notable ways?)
- Do you intend to take a more authoritarian approach to parenting, a more lenient approach, or somewhere in the middle?
- How were you parented, and how has this impacted your own aspirations for your parenting style?
- What do you think your parents did well with you, and what would you adjust if you could go back in time?
- Do you plan to invest money in your child’s education? At what age, if any, will you start sending them to a private school? How much do you plan to invest in their university education (if applicable)?
- Will your children be homeschooled, sent to an alternative school, or educated within the traditional system?
- How do you plan to approach discipline?
- What is an appropriate bedtime at various ages?
- How much sugar is it appropriate for a kid to eat?
- How much attention will be given to checking homework and encouraging children to get good grades in school?
- How much time should be spent on homework?
- Will you invest in musical instrument lessons or any particular sports classes for your child?
- Will either of these or similar activities be compulsory?
- How much money are you willing to invest in these activities?
- How much time can be spent recreationally using electronic devices like phones and ipads?
- How will you model healthy behavior when it comes to electronics?
- What values do you want to instill in your children?
- What are your non-negotiables–what behavior from your child is an absolute no-no, and what parenting behaviors are unacceptable for you and/or your spouse to exhibit?
- What are each of your attachment styles? If you’re prone to any type of insecure attachment, do you know what behaviors from your own parents’ parenting styles led to this? How will you avoid doing the same with your own child?
Navigating Differences and Difficulties
Here are some tips on how to constructively co-create your parenting style while respecting one another:
Create rules together: Actually sit down together periodically and literally write down rules you plan to implement going forward (Feuerman, 2022). Doing so is the most straightforward way to both keep track of agreements and set expectations. Having this in writing also promotes accountability.
Agree on consequences: Apply the process above to consequences, as well. It’s one thing to agree on the rules, but consider also what will happen if your kid(s) break the rules set in place.
No critique in front of the kids: If you see your partner responding to your child in a way that you feel is not what you agreed on, don’t point it out in the moment. It’s not great for kids to witness parental disputes over parenting style (Silver, 2020), and pointing it out in the moment when emotions may be running high will hardly do much to diffuse tension.
Be Forgiving: Everyone messes up from time to time. Even if you promise you’re not going to raise your voice at your children, for example, it may still happen from time to time. If you see your partner make a mistake with your kid(s), be forgiving. Remember that this is not your adversary, but your partner. Of course, in a case of outright abuse, this rule goes out the window.
Use a code word: Sometimes you may prefer to deal with difficult parenting moments yourself, but other times you might feel you need your partner’s support. However, due to that whole ‘separate individuals’ thing, they’re unlikely to be able to read your mind. Agree on a code word to use in such cases. For example, professional parenting coach Elaine Taylor-Klaus uses the code word “rope” (as in “throw me a line, get me out of here”). It’s totally ok to use the code word in front of your kids and for them to know what it means–this can be a skillful way to model transparency around your emotions (Silver, 2020).
Evolve: Your kids’ growth and unique personalities will likely call for changes in your parenting style over time. Be flexible enough to be willing to reassess and re-adjust periodically (Feuerman, 2022). If these reassessments come with disagreements, remain flexible and open with your partner, too.
Seek expert advice: If you feel like there’s an issue you need a middle party to help with, that’s totally normal and happens with many couples. Check out our A to Z of couple’s therapy to see if this is something that might help you!
Parenting + Your Prenup
Did you know that getting a prenup can alleviate some of these stresses? Check out a few clauses you to consider including in your prenup if you plan on having kids.
You might also choose to include a sunset clause, or a time when your prenup expires completely or needs to be renegotiated. If you have kids together, you might eventually feel like all your assets should be equally shared since your lives are then merged.
Getting a prenup is indeed an investment in your marriage–but equally importantly, it’s an investment in your future children’s futures!
Feuerman, M. 2022. How to Cope with Parenting Differences. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellfamily.com/tips-dont-agree-on-parenting-4107372
Silver, C. 2020. How to Parent with a Partner When You Can’t Agree on a Parenting Style. Retrieved from: https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/how-to-parent-with-a-partner-when-you-cant-agree-on-a-parenting-style/