How to Cope With Parenting Differences

parenting fight

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It is not uncommon for parents to have differences in opinion. If you and your partner argue about everything from the baby's sleep schedule, potty training, and timeouts, to homework expectations, social media use, and dating, you are not alone. Nearly every relationship faces challenges when kids first enter the scene.

But although these parenting disagreements are normal, it's important to address them. Differences of opinion can lead to fractures in the relationship and possibly even divorce or separation if they are not handled appropriately.

"When parents have different opinions on raising their children, it can create tension or anxiety in the home," says Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, parenting coordinator, and Florida Supreme Court certified family mediator. "Children may also feel that tension and anxiety [especially] if parents disagree in front of them.

"Consequences of having a difference in parenting include more conflict, emotional and physical disconnect, lack of trust, and behavioral changes," says Dr. Gulotta. That's why it's vital to learn how to collaborate and come to a more unified approach to parenting.

Talk It Out

Ideally, you and your partner discussed your parenting strategies long before you decided to have children together. But even if you didn't, it's not too late to start. Share your parenting philosophies with each other. Talk about how you were parented as well as what you want to do the same and what you want to do differently than your own parents.

Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD, LMHC

Being willing to listen to your partner and hear their reasons for their personal views makes it easier to move forward.

— Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD, LMHC

"Being willing to listen to your partner and hear their reasons for their personal views makes it easier to move forward," says Dr. Gulotta. "By listening to understand, each parent will gain more insight and will be able to express their own concerns and be honest with their feelings."

When you sit down to talk, ask your partner about issues where you might disagree, such as what reasonable discipline looks like, what is an appropriate bedtime for your kids, and whether children should get an allowance. Remember, that it is normal to disagree. The key is that you communicate respectfully with one another and learn how to make some compromises.

"Even when you do not agree with your partner, it is best to validate their feelings and keep an open mind," says Dr. Gulotta. "This helps to de-escalate conversations and to keep the focus on problem-solving. Remembering that you are a team is also helpful."

Create Rules Together

Collaborate to develop specific rules and write them down. These may include statements such as what age your kids can date, how much time they can spend on electronics, and when homework must be completed.

If you do not agree on specific rules, talk it out. Not only are you modeling for your kids how to work together and resolve differences, but you also are establishing important guidelines for how your house will operate.

"Parenting differences [are] a good thing when they can show their children how to handle differences of opinions," says Dr. Gulotta. "Role modeling positive behaviors when having a disagreement with someone can show your children how to handle conflict resolution in a positive manner."

Once you have the rules developed, share them with your kids—if they are old enough—and ask if they have any questions. Be open to their ideas and suggestions, and make changes if they are appropriate.

Laurie Hollman, PhD

Collaboration is key under all circumstances, so set the tone of family life to be one of flexibility and openness to everyone's points of view, opinions, intentions, feelings, and motivations.

— Laurie Hollman, PhD

It is easier to enforce rules that everyone can agree on. Plus, you are giving your child a chance to practice collaboration as well as demonstrating how they can solve problems or manage conflict.

"Collaboration is key under all circumstances, so set the tone of family life to be one of flexibility and openness to everyone's points of view, opinions, intentions, feelings, and motivations," suggests Laurie Hollman, PhD, a psychoanalyst and author. "Rule-setting and limit-setting in families should be explained, not just expected to be obeyed like an authoritarian rule. Rules also should be based on the developmental ages of the kids that change as the kids change and grow."

Agree on Consequences

You and your partner will need to determine what the consequences are for breaking the rules in your home. Some parents are relaxed about discipline, preferring to talk to children about mistakes. Other parents are strict and believe that handing out specific consequences is the way to keep a home on track.

Be open to differing opinions, suggests Dr. Hollman. These different viewpoints can promote healthy discussions about values but ultimately will require meeting in the middle, which can be good for both of you. One parent may need to agree that there will be consequences for bad behavior while the other parent may need to accept that consequences don't have to be harsh to be effective.

Back Each Other Up

After the plan is in place, it is critical that you stick to it and are consistent. You are setting the whole family up for disaster if one of you is following the plan, but the other is allowing children to break the rules. This lack of unity can have consequences.

Julia M. Chamberlain MS, INHC, LMHC

When parents do not remain united in front of their children, it can cause insecurity, anxiety, and unease for them.

— Julia M. Chamberlain MS, INHC, LMHC

"When parents do not remain united in front of their children it can cause insecurity, anxiety, and unease for them," says Julia M. Chamberlain MS, INHC, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts. "Think of parents as the 'captain of the ship.' If there were two captains of a ship and the crew witnessed them not in agreement about the course of action, it can cause anxiety for the crew."

Although it can be tempting to let unhappy kids out of punishment or to relax the rules, the message you're sending the kids is that you and your partner can be divided and conquered. Plus, the kids will use these differences to their advantage.

"[Not presenting a united front] can cause children to 'split'—which is a term used to describe when children will utilize parental disagreement to their advantage," says Chamberlain. "Think of a child who knows that mom will say ‘no’ to something but dad will say ‘yes.' If the child asks dad and he complies, it will cause an issue between mom and dad. Lastly, children thrive on consistency and when parents are inconsistent due to disagreements this can result in behavioral problems."

Refrain From Disagreeing in Front of the Kids

Unless your partner is being abusive, do not interfere when you disagree with a parenting decision. Your kids will quickly take note of where the disharmony lies, and they will use this to their advantage. Don't let this happen.

"If parents argue in front of their children, this can also cause miscommunication and the children may feel there is a lack of stability or feel insecure in the home," says Dr. Gulotta. Let your kids know that you and your partner are on the same page and that you support each other's decisions. Discuss disagreements when you and your partner are alone.

Be Flexible

How you parent should be flexible enough to change as kids grow. You and your partner will need to re-assessing your parenting plans from time to time. Also, take into consideration your child’s personality.

Some children need more supervision, some less. Some kids are more manipulative, and others have more of a pleasing nature. Your style should be a good fit for the child’s needs.

"Parents [should consider having] weekly check-ins to discuss the topics on which they disagree and each expresses their own expectations," suggests Dr. Gulotta. "Then they can discuss how they can meet in the middle and find a compromise."

Give Second Chances

Every parent makes mistakes. You and your partner are both going to make a bad decision or lose your cool with the children now and then.

When your partner screws up, don't start hurling accusations. Wait until the children are not present, and talk calmly about the situation. Then extend forgiveness. This is your partner, not your enemy. Supporting each other means a lot.

Don't have to let differences in parenting styles ruin your relationship. Listen to each other, compromise on what is important, and agree you both are on the same team. This can go a long way toward raising a family in harmony.

Parents sometimes forget that they are at the top of the hierarchy in the family structure. This essentially means that you two are the bosses and what you say goes. But, like in a government or business, if the leaders don’t agree, chaos ensues. And it sets a poor example for the kids.

They are watching what you do, and what they see can have long-term effects. If you cannot resolve your differences in a respectful way, you may want to consider seeing a mental health professional.

"Working with a therapist to cultivate adaptive communication is helpful when struggling to communicate," says Chamberlain. "Additionally, try to truly understand the reasoning behind the other parent's stance by building upon common ground and working back to the disagreed point. 'We both love our kids, we both want to keep them safe and happy' is a good place to start."

Avoid Involving Children in Disagreements

When you and your partner do disagree, it is important not to involve the children in any way. In other words, do not ask for their opinions and do not ask them to take sides. Doing so creates division between you and your partner and puts the child in an awkward situation.

"Parents should never use their children as a way to validate their opinions in an argument," says Dr. Gulotta. "When parents include their children or tell the other parent that the child agrees with them, it only creates a more complicated situation. The children may begin to feel they are to blame for arguments that happen in the home. This can create a feeling of anxiety for the children and parents."

Make sure that you always leave your kids out of your arguments. The disagreement is between you and your partner. If you need another opinion, look to a neutral third party, such as a mental health professional.

A Word From Verywell

Disagreeing over parenting is a common issue in relationships, especially because both partners likely feel very strongly about the situation. When disagreements occur, remind yourself that you both love your children and you both want what is best—even if you do not agree on how to get there.

Work hard to listen to one another, be respectful in your communication, and have your conversations where little ears cannot hear what you're saying. Also, try to be empathetic and open to what your partner is saying and look for ways to compromise and collaborate.

If you cannot seem to come to an agreement, or if one or both of you is consistently condescending or rude, it is time to seek the help of a mental health professional. They can help you learn to communicate in healthier ways and provide tools for collaborating more effectively.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Creating rules.

  2. American Psychological Association. Parenting styles.

  3. Sanford Health. The power of consistency while parenting young children.

By Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT
Marni Feuerman is a psychotherapist in private practice who has been helping couples with marital issues for more than 27 years.