With the news swirling of Angelina Jolie filing for divorce from Brad Pitt, there have been many hints that trouble in the marriage may have stemmed from disputes surrounding their differences in parenting beliefs. Since the announcement, a number of people have solicited my opinion as a child psychiatrist surrounding the issues differing parenting styles can cause in a marriage. One person asked “can parenting differences really cause that many problems where divorce is on the table?” The answer to this question is of course that it depends. Depends on how the couple communicates as a whole. Depends on how the couple works together as a team. And of course, depends on how important maintaining the marital relationship is to the couple.
You often choose a mate based on the fact that they bring depth into your life. This person can complement you in areas where you may be weak, expose you to new ideas, or teach you things you did not know before. It is said that opposites attract in intimate relationships, and this is very often true. And opposites can work very well together in a marriage. However, you do not always think about how these differences may rear itself in the parenting relationship. The person whose differences seemed to provide balance has now become a co-parent, and what seemed to make you stronger as a couple may now be causing major conflict.
The truth is parenting beliefs generally arise from how you were raised. Your principles regarding expectations, discipline, and closeness develop from what you were taught in your family of origin. Some adopt these values while others seek to do things differently or even the opposite of how things were done in their family. And rarely is there a right or wrong way. Just different. And this is where issues can arise. If partners do not see that their way may not be the end all be all. If partners do not learn to hear each other out. If partners do not agree that there must be compromises. This is when talks of divorce may creep into the discussion.
I am here to tell you that there are ways to manage the issues that arise when dealing with different parenting styles. Disagreement is unavoidable, but there are strategies to employ when conflict begins to affect your relationship. Here are some tips on how to prevent marital issues when differences in parenting beliefs are present.
1. Communicate your ideals and values. Many couples neglect to discuss their belief system regarding parenting. Once the children arrive, you are then making decisions based on subconscious views instead of having certain guiding principles in place for your home. Sit down and have an open dialogue surrounding each partners view on how to interact appropriately with your child, your expectations of their behavior in various areas, as well as discipline tactics. If these things have not been discussed in the past make time to have this conversations now, it is never too late.
2. Have an open mind. When co-parenting it is important to keep an open mind regarding your partner’s opinion on important topics. Do not assume that your ideas or views are better just because it is how things were done in your home. There may be things that you can learn from one another, so make sure to listen and hear your spouse out when discussing parenting philosophies. Be sure to maintain respect and avoid bashing one another’s ideas. Communicating effectively allows you to address the pros and cons of each position in parenting as well as other areas of your relationship.
3. Blend aspects from both styles. Each family has to establish their own culture. This is accomplished by finding common ground between viewpoints to develop solutions that comprise aspects from each parent’s belief system. You may find that you actually agree on a principle, yet disagree on the delivery. Determining your house rules and expectations provides an opportunity to discuss an approach that you can both get behind. When both partners are willing to compromise instead of focusing on right or wrong, your relationship grows and your children reap the benefits.
4. Pose a united front. Parents are a team. A partnership. Presenting a united front surrounding the decisions being imposed prevents manipulation or your children being able to pit one parent versus the other. This involves limiting the strategy of “good cop, bad cop” as well as avoiding any behavior that undermines the other parent’s position (i.e. granting permission where it was previously denied or taking away permission that was previously granted.) Once a decision has been communicated to your child it is best to support one another. Discuss any issues you may have with decisions or technique in a constructive manner later to minimize strife or conflict in front of your children. It is fine for your children to see you disagree and model healthy conflict resolution at times, but they need to know that you have come to a consensus when it comes to major decisions.
5. Be consistent in your methods. No matter what style or strategy you have chosen, it is extremely important for both parents to be consistent. Children will always test their limits, so it is essential that you continually show them where the line is drawn. Backtracking or straying from the plan you and your spouse presented is confusing for your children as they do not learn what is expected of them. Your children’s behavior and values are shaped by your direction as parents, so any inconsistencies will allow for variations in their presentation. You inconsistency is also frustrating to your spouse as they cannot depend on you to be reliable, so try to stick with it.
6. Seek professional help. If you are truly concerned regarding your spouse’s techniques or you are unable to form a compromise, do seek aid from a specialist. Many couples benefit from the guidance of a professional when developing methods and strategies for effective parenting. The objective party can help you discuss your frustrations and avoid letting your parenting differences disrupt the marital relationship.
The opinions expressed here are solely my own as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.
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