How to marry two parenting styles in one household

Sep 13, 2011 at 12:51 p.m. ET

You may not realize how drastically you and your partner’s parenting styles differ until your children arrive in the world. When neither parent feels that they -- in good conscience -- can reinforce the other’s rules and philosophies, it’s time to learn how to mesh two styles of parenting under one roof.

Different parenting styles

Parents who disagree on major parenting issues and sabotage the other's efforts are doing a disservice to their children. Here's how to make peace with your partner and build a strong foundation for your child.

Rules for parenting the "right" way

She believes in time outs; he doesn't. She thinks baby should cry herself to sleep; he thinks they should pick her up immediately. If you're trying to marry a permissive parenting style with an authoritative parenting style, it's key to acknowledge that you have different ideas about the right ways to raise children.

Scott Haltzman, M.D., psychiatrist and author of The Secrets of Happy Families, recommends the following methods to help parents learn how to work together:
  • Get an education. "Subscribe to parenting magazines, take parenting classes and talk to your pediatrician about good and bad discipline techniques. Use classes, articles and books as a discussion point. Sometimes it's easier to have a healthy discussion about a hypothetical child in an article than it is to discuss your own child."
  • Reach out. "Use your parents as a resource. They have more experience with raising children than you do. Friends also can be a help, particularly if their kids are slightly older than yours; they'll be able to tell you what worked and didn't work for them."
  • Get back to basics. "Set aside time to discuss your progress in disciplining your children. Figure out what your goals are in child rearing, and what you'd like to see for your kids. Then see how each of you has succeeded or not succeeded in helping your family stay the course."

Play on the same parenting team

"Children worry when they see their parents in conflict," says Haltzman. "They feel more confident and in control when they see their parents in control." How your child views you as a parent affects their relationship and interactions with you.

While it isn't always a bad thing to argue in front of your kids, allowing them to witness a heated back-and-forth about good parenting rules can be detrimental and the cause of a power shift in the family. "Children may pretend to want to be in control but, when they have control over you and your emotions, it's actually quite upsetting for them, and can increase their sense of anxiety," Haltzman explains. In other words, have your disagreements about parenting styles in private.

When parents agree to disagree

While you don't want to be at odds with your partner for the rest of your lives, Haltzman offers this bit of wisdom -- and relief -- when it comes to parenting styles: "There is a fallacy that every parent must discipline the same for a child to learn. Each person defines their rewards and punishments differently. What's most important is for children to get a consistent message from each parent, and for each parent to stick with the message they want to give."

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