John (name changed) wanted the kids to go to bed at a regular time every night. His wife, Cheryl (name changed) felt that it was ok to have some flexibility in bed time as long as the kids were following their routine and behaving well. She especially liked taking extra time to cuddle with each child before they fell asleep. This sometimes meant bedtime dragged on for more than two hours.
John felt a lot of stress about the lack of structure and variability each night. Some nights he had extra work or was tired from the stress of the day and he just wanted a quiet night. Despite trying to be involved in bedtime and spend a few quiet moments with his kids, he often found himself distracted and getting very impatient. He even started to feel resentful towards Cheryl because she resisted the set bedtime. He really wanted bedtime to be a peaceful time to relate to his kids, but it often felt like the never-ending story.
Cheryl also felt frustrated that John wasn’t always “present” with the kids or her during bedtime. She wanted his full attention and wished he didn’t get so impatient and irritable at times. She felt it was important for them to work together to put the kids to bed and maximize family time when he was at home. It was also hard work putting the kids to bed and she wanted his help. She could tell he was frustrated at times, but it seemed like she was doing all the hard work and he was there in body but absent in ‘mind’.
Let’s take a pause here. Is there anything in John and Cheryl’s story that you can relate to?
The names, friction points or context can change but there is a common challenge here that most parents with a partner experience. It’s what happens when parents disagree on parenting issues.
These situations have the potential to create conflict that can range from minor disagreements to major blow-ups if not handled well. As a parent, disagreements with your partner about parenting can be one of the most challenging experiences you face.
However, it’s important to remember that differences of opinion are not only normal, but they can actually be a healthy part of your relationship. Disagreements can bring up new perspectives and help you grow as a parent and as a couple. The key to navigating these disagreements is to approach them with a mindset of cooperation and understanding, rather than competition and criticism.
In John and Cheryl’s situation, the disagreement needs to be addressed otherwise the relationship may deteriorate. When parents continually disagree on parenting issues without repairing the relationship it impacts the atmosphere in the home, which can have negative consequences for the children.
Dr. Laura Markham, a renowned child psychologist and parenting expert, has dedicated her career to helping parents develop healthy, fulfilling relationships with their children. Here are some of her key tips for resolving disagreements with your partner about parenting:
1. Acknowledge your emotions.
The first step in resolving any disagreement is to take a step back and acknowledge your own emotions. When we feel upset or frustrated, it’s easy to lash out at our partner and make the situation worse. By taking a moment to identify and express your feelings, you can gain a better understanding of what is driving your behavior and find a more productive way to communicate with your partner.
It isn’t easy to identify emotions, and it’s especially difficult in the heat of the moment. Taking a few deep breaths, finding a quiet space for yourself and stopping to think about what you’re actually feeling is often needed. That may mean you step away from the situation and take a few minutes for yourself before coming back and communicating what you’re feeling.
When you return, remember to use a calm, kind voice and express feelings using the words, “I feel….” This may feel uncomfortable or awkward at first, but it’s important and helps you acknowledge your own emotions while helping others understand what you’re feeling.
2. Listen to your partner.
When we are in the heat of an argument, it’s easy to forget that our partner has their own valid perspective. By actively listening to what they have to say, you can gain a deeper understanding of their point of view and find common ground. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective. This will help you to understand why they feel the way they do, and you may even find that you agree with some of their concerns.
Dads – it’s especially important that you allow your partner to express their emotion without shutting down or getting impatient. We can often default to problem solving and miss the need our partners have to express the feelings.
Having empathy for your partner after listening can really help. You may not agree with their perspective or the feelings they express, but you can always empathize with their feelings. That may be your most important step to positively working through a disagreement.
3. Avoid blame and criticism.
When disagreements arise, it’s easy to point fingers and place blame on your partner. However, this approach is unlikely to result in a productive resolution. Instead, focus on finding a solution that works for both of you, rather than blaming the person. This means not criticizing and replacing any judgemental thoughts and attitudes with more positive thoughts.
Coming up with a plan to focus on the problem and not the person can help. By talking about the “problem”, identifying what’s making it a problem, and the feelings each of you have about the problem, you can train yourselves to work together to come up a solution for “the problem”. This team-based approach also models effective problem solving skills for children.
4. Look for common ground
When disagreements arise, it’s important to remember that you and your partner have the same ultimate goal: to raise happy, healthy children. By focusing on your shared goal, you can find common ground and work together to find a solution that works for everyone. For example, if you disagree about bedtimes, you may be able to find a compromise that allows your children to get enough sleep while also giving them some extra time to play or spend with family.
In John and Cheryl’s situation, both parents have important needs. The common goal is positive relationships with the kids. Cheryl sees flexibility at bedtime as the way to achieve the goal, John sees structure as the way to achieve the goal. By working together they may come up with a plan that combines both of their approaches. They could agree to a set bedtime every night and allow more lead time which is flexible.
5. Seek outside help if needed
If you are unable to resolve your disagreements on your own, don’t be afraid to get outside help. This may mean talking to a therapist or counselor, or seeking the advice of friends or family members who have experience with similar issues. Having a neutral third party can help you to gain a fresh perspective and find a solution that works for everyone.
The reality is that parenting disagreements are a normal part of any parent-partner relationship. By approaching these disagreements with a mindset of cooperation and understanding, you can find solutions that work for everyone and strengthen your relationship with your partner.
By acknowledging your own emotions, actively listening to your partner, avoiding blame and criticism, looking for common ground, and seeking outside help when needed, you can navigate these disagreements and become a stronger, more effective parent. The ones who will benefit the most are your kids. And believe me dad, if you can work together well with your partner – they will thank you later!
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About The Author – Drew Soleyn
I’m the Director of Dad Central Ontario, Founder of Connected Dads, and a Career Coach at the Queen's Smith School of Business. As an ICF and Maxwell Leadership certified Coach, Trainer & Speaker, I help struggling dads show up at their best for the people who matter most.
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Thank Drew – great podcast with Ralph and an insightful article on conflict. Question about Ralph’s podcast – it seems like he maintained custody of his children. How could one build the foundation he is talking about if one is separated and has restricted time with their children?