Question: How to manage conflicts in different parenting styles

How do you resolve conflicts in different parenting styles between yourself and your partner? e.g. where one parent is stricter than the other

According to The Gottman Institute, in every successful relationship most (69%) of the conflicts are unresolvable*.

Some of those conflicts might be about inconsequential things, such as our favourite flavour of ice-cream. But many of the unresolvable issues are more important than our taste buds. Knowing they’re unresolvable helps us to manage them, rather than waste our time and energy arguing about them.

What about our attitude and parenting style in bringing up the kids?

I’m an ex-nurse and used to bandage the wounds of other people’s adventurous kids who ended up in the Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. So my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach when I see a child anywhere near where they might possibly fall. I am a scaredy-cat.  I would happily ban trampolines and all kinds of other adventures – but there wouldn’t be much fun left.

DH (dear husband) grew up climbing trees, rambling over rocks and yabbying in dams and creeks. He has several scars which show that many wounds heal by themselves, eventually.
He encourages climbing – with the theory that if you let them climb, as long as they know how to climb down, they’re safer if you leave them to it than if you make a fuss.
Our way around that was for me to stay well away from the adventurous parts of playgrounds – so the children couldn’t sense my fear. Chris would be in charge of the kids in playgrounds. And I left him to it. It meant that my kids learnt to climb, and jump, and do normal kid things without my unfounded fear.And the kids knew that if he ever said ‘That’s enough!’ their lives were in mortal danger.

That’s pretty much how we still handle situations on which we disagree .

We go on the side of the person with the most factual knowledge or experience about a situation:
Anything requiring medical or nursing care, he leaves to me.
Anything microbial i.e. what’s safe to eat that we find in the back of the fridge, we leave to him.
Anything we’re not sure about, we still err on the side of caution – unless it looks like fun and we feel that it can’t do too much damage.

Interestingly, the issues we used to find most difficult, we can’t even remember now.

Perhaps our ways aren’t what every couple would choose. But that’s the beauty of families. We’re all different.

When it came to our natural parenting styles, we’re opposite. But we discovered the Parent-Coach style, through ‘Toolbox Parenting Groups’ from The Parenting Place. Both of us could work together on that, with the same goal in mind.

Doing whichever courses came our way, about relationships and parenting, we learnt new tactics and decided together which ones we didn’t think would work for us, and happily tried ones that sounded hopeful.

We made time with each other a priority. When the children were small, we hired a student once a week to mind the kids while we went on a date. Later, when the kids were at school, we had a regular Wednesday morning ‘date’ at a coffee shop next to the bus stop.

Making time for each other helped us to understand how we were travelling, and what made us react and respond to our kids and each other in different circumstances. We could talk things over when not in crisis mode, and often made decisions about the kids in semi-relaxed circumstances. It really helped us with our communication during crisis moments that inevitably have happened.

And our parenting decisions are guided by our family values. More about that in the article about family values – but, in summary, when we have worked out together what are the most important values to our family, all sorts of decisions are much easier to make.

*(John Gottman & Julie Schwartz Gottman, 2014 Bridging the Couple Chasm: Gottman Couples Therapy: A Research-Based Approach)

The Parent-Coach Approach

As a young mum, I loved to help the kids to explore and make discoveries. Freedom and creativity were abundant in our house. Being the lovely mother that I was, I tended to become child number four and join in making a big mess. We would all have a wonderful time.

The Parenting Place from New Zealand* would classify my natural parenting style as a ‘Jellyfishicus’ parent—somebody who is warm, friendly and loving to their kids, but who, for whatever reason, does not use any form of control, does not set boundaries or make any rules.

But if the kids fought, or the noise got too much, or the mess became hugely overwhelming, my niceness wore off. My attempts to take control relied upon very public, personal explosions.

It sounded very much like: ‘Don’t leave this big mess to me. You made it with me. If you don’t clean up, you’ll have to go without dinner.’

Unfortunately, lovely Jellyfishicus parents tend to become overwhelmed when they have lost all sense of control. Then they turn into a different type of parent—the ‘Sergeant-majorcus’ parent. Sergeant-majorcus parents like to be ‘in control’ all of the time. They like order and yelling out orders. All family duties are carried out in a military style. There’s lots of control—lots of rules, but little, if any, warmth.

What would happen after I’d started shouting was that the kids would end up cowering in the corner—if they hadn’t already been sent to their rooms. Nothing would get done, and inevitably I would wind up with a headache.

There is another style of parent that would emerge after the headache appeared: the ‘Parentus Absentus’ variety. Though I was there, I wasn’t really there. The kids were safe, largely supervised by the big sister, and I was conscious enough to help out in the case of fire or blood. But anything not constituting an emergency was pretty much ignored.

Thank God for older, wiser parents and teachers who showed this mother other ways. They taught me a parenting style that works most of the time and that anybody can learn to apply, no matter what their natural personality might be. It is the ‘Parent-Coach’ style.

Most of us can think of great coaches that we’ve encountered during our lives. They may have been sporting coaches whom we were privileged to train with, or coaches (such as NRL or AFL coaches) whom we admired from the sidelines. They may have been teachers, choir or orchestra conductors. Or they may be mentors who walked alongside us.

Great coaches show respect to their players and in return earn the respect of the players. Great coaches apply a balance of warmth and control, encouragement, discipline and independence. Great coaches know each of their players, with their strengths and weaknesses, and work with them. They work on inbuilt strengths to compensate for weaknesses, and teach skills step by step where natural ability is lacking. Great coaches teach skills in bite-sized chunks, giving opportunity for the players to practise, and gradually incorporate new skills into the game-plan.

Great coaches teach the rules of the game, showing where the boundaries are—and what the goals are. They inspire by getting a team to have a common goal, to recognise what needs to happen for the team to get there, and then walking alongside each member of the team, so that each individual recognises their own important role in achieving success for the team.

When my children grew, I was able to share the Parent-Coach principle with other parents.  Parents can usually identify to which of the parenting styles they are naturally inclined. Some also recognise that different circumstances, and even different children, can bring out differing styles within each parent. When parents discover the Parent-Coach principle, they soon recognise that this is an achievable goal for them, regardless of their natural style.

In The Parenting Place’s ‘Toolbox’ course, parents are given practical and positive ways to implement Parent-Coach ‘tools’. Usually just ‘tweaking’ some of the things they do already makes a big difference, but sometimes, trying a completely new concept is beneficial to their family.

For example, many parents use timers in their homes for particular roles, such as cooking. I used to use it for ‘Time-Out’ for the children’s bad behaviour. These days I recommend using a timer for more positive things.

I recommend a timer for children who don’t have a sense of urgency in such things as getting ready for school. It helps for parents to first observe what is taking so long and break it down into do-able chunks for the child. Then use the timer for the chunk that seems to take longest for no particular reason.

Or use it when a child asks for your undivided attention, but you have ten minutes of work to finish before you can take a break. ‘Here. When this timer rings, I will be finished doing this work. Then we can play together. Okay?’

One family’s dawdling child made the family late for school every morning. When applying the Parent-Coach principle, the parents recognised that this child loved Mum to stay at school to help with reading each morning. So Mum and Dad began to set the timer for the amount of time their daughter needed to get dressed. If their daughter was dressed before the timer went off, Mum had time to stay for reading. If dressing took too long, Mum would have to use the ‘Kiss-and-drop’ lane at the school instead. The child was in control of her own destiny. Within a week, the family was no longer late for school, and Mum was able to stay for reading every day.

The greatest coaches love their players! That’s the element where we as parents have an advantage over most coaches.

As parents we have more reason to love our children—a lifetime investment. Being a Parent-Coach style of parent is do-able and makes the journey much, much more enjoyable.

*For great parenting advice, and to find a Toolbox parenting group in your area, see www.theparentingplace.com