Mom and Dad, Parent on the Same Page
Opposites attract (or cynics may say "attack"), which is why most couples raising kids together know all about parenting-style clashes.
Dad feels his daughter should start dating at 30 while Mom remembers the excitement of young love. Mom feels money as a reward for good grades goes against every educational principle in the book, while Dad wouldn't touch any of those books in the first place.
Four "Tree Type" Metaphors for Parenting
- Rose Bush parents: They exert control (hence the thorns) and place an emphasis on dependability and independence. They want kids to grow up fast and yet they want to make most of their decisions for them. Their kids know how to submit to authority and how to do what needs doing even when they don't feel like doing it.
- Palm Tree parents: Imagine the beach, sunshine and fun. Their mantras are: Let kids be kids. Don't be so serious. Loving attention is all your kids need. These parents are adored, but not always respected, unless they can overcome their inclination to be their child's best friend and set some firm boundaries when needed.
- Pine Tree parents: They can also be the victims of strong-willed children, because their primary goal is peace. They're like the Christmas tree that brings everyone together in spite of their differences. This nurturing care and diplomacy filter into parenting and sometimes show up in a negative way as smothering, indecisiveness, conflict avoidance and even permissiveness.
- Boxwood Tree parents: They love systems and rules, order and routine. Boxwood parents want to fit the mold and will generally adapt to what is needed, often losing their sense of self in the process. But, their kids tend to be neatly pruned and exemplary.
It's possible that a mom and dad may actually have the same expectations of their children and are trying to apply the same rules, but their methods for achieving those results are so different they feel they are divided. A Palm Tree dad could joke about the messy rooms as a way to motivate the kids to do something about it. A Boxwood mom's response would be serious. A Rose Bush may threaten and a Pine Tree may do nothing, or may even clean the mess themselves to avoid the stricter parent's intervention. All have the same goal: a tidy room.
Style differences can be a good thing, because they may force parents who are at opposite ends of the spectrum to act in a more balanced or moderate way. But, what if parents differ so much that each feels the other one is really wrong? Loss of respect, division and confusion usually creep in.
Five Steps to Unity in Parenting
1. Leave the baggage behind.
Sometimes there are six voices in each home: mom's, dad's and the voices of the four grandparents. Perhaps mom wants to do what her dad would have done, and dad wants to avoid repeating his mother's mistakes at all costs. If our approach is a reaction to an unhappy childhood or an artificial continuation of a happy one, that baggage probably contributes significantly to the conflict.
2. Discuss the points of conflict with specific, concrete examples.
Easily worried Boxwood parents may disagree with the Palm Tree parent's gift of a TV for every child's bedroom. They would do well to steer clear of sweeping statements such as, "You always say yes to everything." It would work better to express acceptance of the Palm Trees' innate design and rather say, "I think you knew the kids would be thrilled. You want to see them happy, but I have some concerns. Maybe I can suggest a few boundaries."
3. Formulate a joint disciplinary mission.
Our long-term goal for our children can be summarized by the word maturity. Parents may have a very insightful conversation if they compare their definitions of maturity. Pine Trees and Palm Trees may emphasize a happy, balanced child; Boxwoods and Rose Bushes may mention a sound work ethic or self-confidence.
4. Agree on rules, rewards and penalties.
If a strict disciplinarian announces a punishment the other parent disapproves of, that more lenient parent will comfort the children in a way that makes them think the consequence was unreasonable. List consequences both of you can live with, and decide who the best person is to announce or implement these.
5. Agree never to disagree in front of the children.
Most couples can predict what they will disagree on. When one of those contentious issues comes up, step outside. You do not have to respond to a request in the heat of the moment. Take your time. Ask your spouse for their perspective. Don't reply until you can speak for the both of you. Children appreciate a well-considered response their parents agree on.