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Parenting from the Same Page

Taking Steps Together
Parents often work out their differences informally: maybe you mention something over dinner, there's a testy exchange, one of you makes a point that's too sensible to disagree with, and you come together. But other times, you'd benefit from a process that's a little more structured. Hopefully, your husband will read this article, but if not, you can bring up its points with him.

Talking about values. A good place to start is to set aside time to talk about the values that guide your parenting. You can use these questions or come up with your own. This should be an empathic exploration of how each of you feels, rather than an attempt to change anyone's mind. Be as supportive as you can be and emphasize where you already have common ground. Really try to understand how your partner came to feel the way he does, and encourage him to do the same. For example, what experiences have (hypothetically) made him feel it's Important to "toughen up" his children?

It's all right to say how you want the two of you to act as parents. Women who say what they feel and want are generally more satisfied in their marriages than women who don't. But you may have to push through some resistance - yours or his - to say your piece. If so, get some support from other mothers for the validity of your needs and your right to express them, and remind yourself that you're just advocating for the sake of your kids.

Of course, when you discuss your differences, try to avoid an accusatory, blaming, or disdainful attitude. Unless your partner is outrageous, he is parenting like millions of other people. Most differences in parenting style call for compromise or skill building rather than indignation.

Being supportive of each other. See if you can get agreement on the general goal of supporting each other as parents. For starters, keep each other up-to-date by sharing information like I think Charlie's getting a cold or Patrice has to bring something to share to kindergarten. And try to back the authority of the other parent in front of the children whenever possible, handling disagreements behind closed doors, with voices that do not fill the house.

Children take their cues for how to treat their parents from seeing how they treat each other, and insulting, hostile, threatening, or raging speech gives children the message that it's all right to speak that way themselves. You both could consider how a child's gender might affect his or her reactions. For example, a boy hearing his father routinely berate his mom may think that is how men are allowed or even ought to act with women. A girl observing her father act in that way may come to believe that such treatment is normal, and perhaps even unconsciously seek out a man who will treat her similarly when she becomes a woman herself.

You can encourage the children to accept parental authority by going along with it in each other. If Mom calls the family to dinner, Dad should not dawdle. If Dad says it's time to get in the car for a family vacation, that's not the best moment for Mom to make a quick call to a neighbor.

Finally, try not to polarize roles so that one parent is the disciplinarian while the other gets to be more nurturing or playful. This cuts both ways. A mother may feel she has to do mainly humdrum, plain vanilla activities with children in order to get through the daily marathon while her partner gets to come in with a flashy sprint of high-energy play that kids love. On the other hand, a father is usually leery of being pegged as the source of big punishments - Just wait until your father gets home! - especially if that's a role his own dad played. You can talk about this issue and sometimes deliberately shift who does what. There is no rule that says you can't be the one in the middle of the pillow fight while he finishes up the dishes!

Using a tie-breaker. A book, professional, or class is a neutral guide that can break a deadlock between parents. For example, if there's a conflict about how to punish your child, the two of you could read a book in the Positive Discipline series, mark any parts you don't feel good about, and then use the rest of the book as an agreed-upon "manual" for that aspect of child rearing. If a big issue comes up - like you want to try a family bed, while he feels the baby should sleep down the hall - the two of you could discuss it with your pediatrician. Many parent resource centers or local therapists offer classes, and taking one together would give you a common experience and an opportunity to hear ideas from other moms and dads.

Next: Negotiate >>

From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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