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Just Not On The Same Page

Co-writing the Book - when you're not on the same page...

Co-writing the Book - when you're not on the same page...

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:

  1. It gives me a chance to calm down and think coherently about what I am feeling about our difference of opinion.
  2. It gives him a chance to understand that I disagree, but I’m going to listen and not just argue.
  3. 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.

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9 Responses to “Just Not On The Same Page”

  • Melissa says:

    Fantastic advice! My husband and I are frequently on different pages, and I find myself jumping in to "correct" far too often. It's not at all how I want our coparenting relationship to go and it has been nagging at me a lot lately as I notice it more and more, so I have been apologizing, biting my tongue, and striving for change. I really appreciate the great example in Zoie!
    Melissa recently posted..True vs Artificial Freedom

  • gentle discipline is a source of stress for my dh and me as well. I try to ask what it is that my older son "needs" when he is acting "crazy" or "out of control"…usually its my connection and once its there we are able to redirect…my husband chooses to reprimand on the spot and demand an apology…if its an immediate safety issue, then I support that approach…if its about noise or energy level,etc. then I usually open my mouth and correct him…I know I should not do this~~~~~~~~~ thank you for the reminder to gently insert my foot into my mouth…breath…move on and then address my concerns later.

    We both want what is best for the family…we just move past some important paragraphs and pages sometimes!!
    Jessica | Cloth Diap recently posted..Wordless Wednesday- Baby NOSE Breast

  • I can related to this, Zoie. My husband definitely trusts me to do all the research, and then he listens to my anecdotal summaries, to hear my rationale for certain decisions. We have very similar personalities, but as my husband once put it, he is much more "mainstream" than I. We've had a couple of challenging discussions, but I think overall, it is good to have different perspectives. I'm just glad that my perspective is usually dominant ;-)
    Charise @ I Thought recently posted..What I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding During Pregnancy

  • Amanda says:

    I struggle with this so much! I'm such a control freak and when my husband does something differently than I do, I instantly tense up and go on the defensive. I have been trying to consciously "let go" (as you said) whenever he does something differently because it isn't always "wrong." I understand that since he is not me, he cannot possibly be the same parent I am. Thanks for this post!

  • Rachel C. says:

    I, too, struggle with control. Not that my ideas are always right, but that I have a sense of needing to do things a certain way. My husband and I rarely disagree, but we definitely do have different ways of doing and seeing things. Thank you for the advice!

  • Kelly says:

    While we haven't yet had any major parenting disagreements, I am sure they are on the way as our daughter grows older!

    We are very similar in the whole one researches/one just does setup, and I know I tend to be more on the maintaining control side!

    One thing I really like about what you've said is that while you're not opposed to disagreeing in front of the kids, it is important to not be disrespectful or divisive in front of them. That is definitely something I need to work on!

    Thank you so much for your wise words Zoie…I know I will be coming back to them again and again!

  • This is a great post – rings so true for many parents. DH and I have had MANY conflicts about how to handle situations and discipline with BiP and she is only 13m old … we both want to get it right. The tips are great too – I definitely need help for the times when things don't go as I would have done it (I know perfectly well that the other way is fine too but still!)

    Will be sharing this!

    Thanks for clarifying what Gentle Discipline is – we were doing it without realising!
    MummyinProvence recently posted..The Response from Lufthansa

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