Parenting

What About When Parents Don’t Agree?

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by Bette Levy Alkazian

Often, parents have different styles of parenting based upon their own upbringing, their own experiences, and their own personalities.  In fact, we usually choose our mates for the personality traits that balance our own, though those are often the reasons that they drive us crazy later on.  As parents, presenting a unified position to our kids is essential, or else we teach them how to play one against the other. 

Parents need to polish their com-munication skills, discuss and listen to each other in order to figure out what their parenting philosophy is.  Parents need a mission statement so that their decision on how to deal with a given parenting situation can be agreed upon.  It helps to revisit this mission statement as your kids grow.  New developmental stages sometimes need an adjusted mission.  It’s like a tune-up!

When parents have different styles in how they relate to people, it’s actually a great thing for kids.  They learn how to deal with different temperaments, personalities, and how to communicate effectively. However, this can also be a challenge for parents.  It is important not to allow kids to use one parent’s personality style against the other in order to get what they want or to avoid what is coming to them.  It can be difficult and parents have to watch for their children using those differing styles to deflect from what they have done.  For example, a child will misbehave in some way and then get mom and dad to start fighting about how to handle it so the kid can then slip out of the room unnoticed.  Mission accomplished!  The kid avoided getting in trouble. 

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How a family spends its time teaches kids what is important. 

If you believe in being active and having healthy bodies, then spending the weekends on the couch isn’t teaching kids to lead an active lifestyle.  If you loved hiking before you had kids, take the kids hiking.  If you love building things, teach your kids to build. Share your passions and let teaching them your values motivate you to do the right thing – even when you don’t feel like it.  Remember, your kids are watching!!!

 Extended Family

I always tell my clients to be careful how they treat their parents.  Are you patient with your elderly parents or grandparents?  Remember, in 30 years, you will be that parent and your kids will have learned how to treat you from watching you now.  Remember, your kids are watching!!!

How you and your spouse deal with extended family is also a very important part of how you teach your child to be a member of your team/family.  How do you deal with your in-laws?  Do you work hard with your spouse to bring the two families together, however difficult that may be?  You don’t have to “like” everyone or agree with them. You do need to show respect.  Remember, your kids are watching!!!

Modeling respect toward everyone is important, even those with whom you don’t agree, whose values differ from your own, or whose lifestyles you wouldn’t choose for yourself.  Remember, your kids are watching!!!  Annoyed yet?

All we can say to our parents and in-laws and the generation they grew up in is “we forgive you, respect you and we want to learn from you.”  We have learned a lot about how to behave and not to behave.  We learned how to love and how to be a family, but we also learned what parenting behaviors we don’t want to repeat.  For instance, if you didn’t like it when your parents fought in front of you, then don’t fight in front of your kids.  If you didn’t like a wooden spoon across your fanny, then find another way to discipline.  If you didn’t like the “scream first, ask questions later” craziness, then change that.  What things happened in your upbringing that you swore you would never repeat when you became a parent? How often do you catch yourself doing it anyway?!

I know that saying “Just don’t do it” seems overly simplistic.  Making the decision to be different and to make a different choice is a great first step toward parenting in the right direction.

About Bette Levy Alkazian

Beth Levy Alkazian, LMFT, a marriage and family psychologist, parenting coach and speaker, was one of the seven finalists out of 15,000+ applicants to become Good Morning America’s Advice Guru.  She is the author of Parenting Backwards.  Learn more about Bette at www.BalancedParenting.com.