Two people, two parenting styles

Sep 19, 2011 at 9:45 a.m. ET

It’s 2010, not the 1950s, and that means for two-parent households, the trend toward co-parenting versus allowing -- or expecting -- Mom to take on all the child-rearing duties is stronger than ever. It goes without saying that dual parental involvement is good. However, sharing parenting duties means blending different backgrounds and parenting styles so that your children are raised in a harmonious household. How do you do that?


Kyle D. Pruett, M.D., Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry and Nursing at the Yale School of Medicine and co-author of Partnership Parenting, offers his take on the evolution of dual-parenting, as well as some really great advice on how to make it work.

New times, new roles

"The trend in the younger generations is to co-parent. That is both an exciting but challenging horizon," says Dr. Pruett. He explains that men and women generally come at parenting from very different positions.

Today, more women work outside the home, which means that sharing parenting duties is necessary. Furthermore, even for families with one stay-at-home parent, it's more socially acceptable -- even expected -- that fathers take an active and involved role.

Hormonal changes aren't just for women

Dr. Pruett explains that while the mother's role is more physiologically significant -- she carries a baby, she can feed him from her body, etc., -- new research shows that a man experiences changes in his brain and hormones when his partner gives birth. (Does this mean moms have to share the "New Mommy Brain" excuse with dads?!)

Dual parental involvement is beneficial

As most of us know, for children who grow up in two parent households, involvement from both parents is beneficial. Dr. Pruett notes that children have better outcomes in many areas, including behavior and academics, when their fathers are involved in their lives. Furthermore, Dr. Pruett says that a mom is more emotionally engaged with her partner when he is a good father to her children.

Plan ahead

"We encourage mothers and fathers to have some early conversations about what they hope their experience will be like as parents -- both with their child and with each other," says Dr. Pruett. "Most parents spend a lot more time choosing the wallpaper for the nursery than they do discussing issues relating to their children." He makes an excellent point. Have you talked about your opinions on co-sleeping, discipline, childcare or how to handle a crying baby?

Dr. Pruett says that there is good research showing that couples who spend time discussing important parenting issues before their child arrives will "keep on their feet" more than couples who don't talk openly in advance. You'll reap the benefits of open communication during more than the new baby stage, as toddlerhood -- and beyond -- is when parents really see the difference in their parenting styles.

Different is good!

"I remember hearing a lot of advice from my grandmother, like 'Be sure you're on the same page with your spouse,'" says Dr. Pruett. "Frankly, that's not possible. We're different people. Our parenting is deeply rooted in our experiences with our family, our gender and our personalities. You can't possibly be on the same page all the time!"

While we might think that agreeing to raise our children a certain way 100% of the time would be ideal, Dr. Pruett reminds us that children do benefit from different parenting styles. He suggests thinking of parenting as a tag-team effort. The key is to support the other parent in front of your children and remain open and communicative with your partner. Determine what issues are very important to you and talk about those with your spouse. For issues less significant, compromise.

In the end, if you're putting significant effort into co-parenting and you're talking with your partner, your child will benefit. The world would be a boring place if we were all alike, anyway. Your child will likely learn from both of you – differences and all.

So, how do you and your spouse/partner feel? Have you discussed your parenting styles? Are they the same? Different? Is it working? Please share what you've learned in the comments section!

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