This guest post is written by Zoie. She is the mom of three boys on earth and one girl who soars. She wiggles her toes near the San Francisco Bay and waggles her fingers at TouchstoneZ: Parenting Off the Mat.
What do I do when my partner and I are just not on the same page about parenting?
I read a lot of parenting books and parenting blogs. Gentle discipline does not come naturally to me. I have to work at it. The way I work at positive parenting is something I call the al dente approach: boil a pot of instinct with a pinch of self-trust, toss in oodles of info, then throw everything at my walls and keep what sticks. My partner’s approach to parenting is by the seat of his pants. Both approaches have enviable merits.
I often wish I were as naturally playful as he is and he trusts me to research new ideas for keeping a respectful household.
We both have our strengths and our weaknesses, which I think is of great benefit to our kids and our relationship with each other. Our differences are also our greatest source of tension. We agree with the overall vision for parenting: that everyone’s needs are important and we work together to find a way to meet those needs while keeping in mind the big picture. This is very different from permissive or neglectful parenting. We do not let the kids or ourselves do everything we want without regard to safety or comfort of ourselves or other people.
On the contrary, gentle discipline means being engaged with what the underlying needs are, rather than the surface ones. Gentle discipline is on a continuum based on the consistency of connection. So, while the kids may not get a “yes” all the time, they know they will be heard and their needs are valued.
For example, our four year old wants to splash water out of the bathtub. This is not acceptable for safety, cleanliness, and damage to the subfloor. Both my partner and I agree on this. But, our approaches might be very different on how to prevent the water from being splashed out of the tub. I would probably redirect our son from splashing water by singing a song or choosing another playful activity. My partner would probably remind him why splashing water out of the tub is not something we do and perhaps suggest a different outlet for his actions, like splashing the wall. We both meet our son’s needs to play and experiment with water while respecting everyone else’s needs for not getting splashed, slipping on water, etc.
The point is that we’re both using the metaphorical parenting book that we’re co-authoring. But, what happens when we’re not on the same page?
If I’m going to truly co-parent and live with the principles of gentle family living, then I’ve got to learn to trust him and let go. When he is in charge of a household decision or caring for the kids, he is most likely going to do it differently than I am. I have to let him without interfering. In the example above, this includes if his parenting choice was to yell at our son about splashing water. Anything short of abuse, either verbal or physical, falls under this category. Otherwise, we are not co-parenting.
If I strongly disagree with the way he is parenting, then I feel it is fair to bring it up later at a time we both agree upon. The reasons for this are three-fold:
- It gives me a chance to calm down and think coherently about what I am feeling about our difference of opinion.
- It gives him a chance to understand that I disagree, but I’m going to listen and not just argue.
- It does not show division in front of the kids.
Taking the time to agree when to talk privately gives me a chance to calm down. I’m usually really angry when I hear him parenting differently than I would in the same situation. In fact, I’ve actually thought, “He did that all wrong!” (As if there’s one right way to parent – my way or the highway!) That’s a big red flag to me that I really want to vent and not seek solution.
Sometimes, I do request a time to just vent and be heard. Sometimes I write my feelings all out. Sometimes I complain on Twitter. Sometimes I meditate. Sometimes I put in earplugs so I can pretend he’s doing it “right.”
Whatever I do, I try to get clear enough to discuss it rationally. I must be able to talk with him using “I” statements and explaining my needs without any blaming or shaming whatsoever. This is difficult, but vitally important so that he doesn’t feel attacked. It is even more difficult to respectfully walk away from the conversation if both of us are not feeling calm.
Taking the time to agree when to talk privately gives him a chance to feel like he will be heard. Or if it is a time when I request to vent and for him to just listen, to know that it will not be an attack. He may also find he has reflected upon his parenting choice and have some thoughts on it. Just like with the kids, I’m often amazed at what someone comes up with on their own when given space.
Not showing division in front of the kids does not mean that we never disagree or argue in front of them. It means that we are not divisive or disrespectful to one another in front of them. I find that especially with differences in parenting ideas, I can get really angry and say mean things without thinking. This is not something I want to model in front of the kids (no matter how much my ego thinks otherwise).
I think respectful argument – preferably followed up with an apology or resolution – is okay. Differences of opinions and compassionate speech are things I want to model in front of them. There are, of course, times when we can’t argue respectfully. So we both agree to do it privately.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m always the one feeling like we’re on a different page. All of this can be flipped and I can be the one asked to talk about a parenting choice I’ve made. In fact, the same principles go for talking with the kids when they make a decision or act in a way that I disagree with. We talk about it later when we’re not emotionally charged. I’m careful to use “I” statements and all the rest.
Are you always on the same page with you partner? Do you sometimes feel you aren’t in the same library, much less writing a book together? How do you handle those disagreements? I’d love to hear from you.