Spouses are different people, with their own unique backgrounds and experiences informing their everyday parenting decisions. When there is general agreement on parenting scenarios this is relatively easy to negotiate and we can navigate household dynamics as a team. But what happens when parents need to present a united front to their kids yet have totally opposing ideas on a certain issue affecting the family?  In these times we risk confusing our kids and really rattling the household. So how should parents think about these things and what are the common areas that partners do need to agree on in order to parent well enough?

Why are parental disagreements a problem?

Parenting decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. There are many contributing factors that inform how a person parents at any given moment. Including: How you were raised, your personality, your stress levels, your self-insight, your fears, your desires for yourself and your family and more. As you can see there are a variety of external factors but also internal ones contributing to your parenting ideas. This essentially means that when it comes to parenting there are many people’s needs in the mix at any given moment and it can become very confusing when you and your partner are not on the same page about core issues. 

When children need guidance on something, they are essentially needing some kind of framing structure to keep them safe, stable or clear on an issue. When the parents are fighting about this issue it can be very confusing for a child to understand which way to go or what to make of the conflict. Worst of all they may feel like they have to take sides, which is an unfair position to be placed in. That said even if parents don’t agree on something, it is still possible and important to parent as a team. While there are some things you may never agree on, there are some principles that parents should always strive to be unanimous on.

1. Investing in your relationships

Talking often and reflecting on each other’s days goes such a long way in developing interpersonal relationships in a family. Families who eat and talk at the dinner table (instead of in front of the TV or on devices) tend to be stronger and more connected. Talking with your family builds trust and teaches your kids that you can have different opinions but still love and care for each other in spite of this. If there are minor disagreements at the table (like about who likes which TV show best or which soccer team should have won), it can be useful to show your kids that sometimes we don’t agree, but we should always be respectful of each other’s opinions. These conversations create space for healthy debate rather than outright conflict and develop an environment where all ideas are welcome. 

2. Place emphasis on keeping your word

If you make empty promises and don’t follow through, your kids will quickly learn that you don’t mean what you say, and they will then be less likely to follow your rules and limits. Be fair and on time with your threats and consequences. Try “We won’t go to the park this afternoon” instead of “Santa won’t bring you any presents this year.” This is an important idea that parents should remain united on.

3. Be truthful & honest

Being honest with your kids helps them learn to trust you. If you can’t afford to get them what they want for their birthday, be honest about it. Give them honest answers about life and death, sexuality, mistakes you made as a parent, and what’s going on in the world, even if it makes you feel bad. Keep your comments appropriate for their age and say sorry if you make a mistake. It’s better for them to learn from you than from a sketchy website or other kids on the field. 

The bottom line

At the end of the day, while parents may not always agree on how to parent, it is important that there are some areas where adults present a stable and united front. If you are unsure how to navigate a particular issue, allow the parent with the stronger view on the subject to take the lead on that given day, and allow the other partner to enjoy the same respect next time round. Essentially it’s not necessarily about always agreeing and being carbon copies of each other, but rather about doing what you can to demonstrate respect for each other. Then when you do overlap on an issue, make the most of it and back each other up. This goes a long way in teaching kids to navigate their own internal dilemmas and they will have a good blueprint for the inevitable interpersonal conflict. 

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