It’s hard to predict what kind of parent a person is going to be. No matter what kind of assumptions or projections you make, when it comes to actually raising a child, your spouse may not handle things the way you expected at all!
Many couples run into these kinds of disagreements shortly after they have their first child – when they finally start to get used to parenthood, they start critiquing each other’s approach. In most cases (but certainly not all), women have had a little more experience – or at least some informal education – with childcare than men.
When these arguments happen, the common dynamic is the new mother criticizing her husband’s “parenting style.” This doesn’t describe every scenario, of course, but it’s certainly the most common version of this problem
So, what are the arguments actually about? Usually, it comes down to difference of opinion – one parent thinks the child needs all organic food, the other parent doesn’t seem so worried about it; one parent strictly limits the amount of television the child is exposed to, the other uses the TV as a temporary babysitter… or any of a long list of examples.
But little arguments can happen about anything – a lot of this stuff is just opinion, or reflects different ways of growing up – and that’s exactly where we have to begin if we want to resolve these disagreements. The first step is recognizing what parental approaches are simply different, and what practices are actually wrong.
If the child is in danger, being neglected, or if a parent’s decisions are preventing them from living a happy, healthy life – those are the wrong decisions. But if it’s simply a matter of one meal over another, a negligible amount of TV time, a choice of clothes, or something equally innocuous, it’s not wrong – it’s just different.
Failing to recognize this distinction, and confronting your spouse about their parenting can come across as criticism of their intelligence and an attack on their character. And because many people feel some self-doubt and fear about being a new parent already, they can really take this kind of criticism to heart.
It’s a sensitive issue, where the person on the receiving end of the criticism can feel inadequate, and the person criticizing can skew their own perspective of the person they love. Combine these with the stresses of being a new parent, and it becomes a dangerous mixture of feelings that can severely damage the marriage. Unchecked, this will lead to resentment on both sides.
First, learn to recognize the difference between “different” and “wrong,” and when it comes time to talk about your differences of opinion, remind yourself (and each other that it isn’t a personal attack), it’s concern for the wellbeing of the child.
Even if you continue to disagree, that’s ok! As long as you’re taking care of critical elements like health and safety, a little variation in parenting style isn’t going to hurt anyone.
Sticking with the “typical” version of these issue, some moms will simply have to relax their hold on parenting style, and let dad do things his own way a little bit. And the dads out there will just have to be open to some education and expertise from their wives, their mothers, and the other people in their lives that will likely have some advice to impart.
There’s no absolute, 100% “right” way to raise your children, but letting disagreements create a rift in your marriage is NOT the way to maintain the happy, supportive home that all kids deserve. If you disagree about an element of one another’s parenting, talk about it calmly, and keep the discussion to the activity or attitude in question – don’t let it seep into personal attacks or other criticisms.
For both of you, parenting should be a team effort – so if one of you isn’t thrilled with the other’s approach, it’s up to both of you to resolve the issue. This could be taking classes together, doing some research, consulting with other parents, or anything else that is going to expand your understanding and get the two of you collaborating instead of disagreeing.
There’s one thing you can always count on as the right decision for your child: maintaining a strong, stable relationship that teaches them the importance of love, support, and compromise.