Q. My husband and I see the world—and parenting—differently. He is a type B personality (always looking for his keys), and my son and I are type A personalities (we never misplace anything because there’s a place or “home” for everything and everything in its place. How do we raise our son with two different and most times opposing parenting styles? Do we go by Mom’s style when Dad’s at work and Dad’s way when Mom’s at work. I figure that our son is learning to be flexible and learning that different rules apply at different homes or with different people. My husband, on the other hand, thinks we’re confusing him. He and my son seem to butt heads more often than our son and I do. When this happens, my husband thinks we are ganging up on him.
A. I know of no families where mom and dad have exactly the same parenting styles. And most are very different. What you describe here are different personalities—inborn temperament styles. You are different people with different blueprints and will parent your son differently. Nothing wrong with that. You are right that your son is learning flexibility—and tolerance I might add. We do not live in a “stepford society”, thank goodness.
Problems arise when those differences between you are viewed as wrong and your son picks up resentment between the two of you. The important thing is that you and your husband respect each other’s basic differences and not think that one is better than the other. This is the hard part. When you see your husband saying or doing something that makes you cringe, it’s hard to feel respectful.
I’m going to guess that you are not afraid that your son is being abused by your husband. If that were the case, serious action would be in order. Therefore, the goal is to first, know that your son will be just fine albeit frustrated and maybe confused at times, and second, that your or your husband’s attempts at controlling the other will backfire and your son will get the fallout.
If you can create an atmosphere in your home that tolerates and accepts differences, think what modeling that means for his views of the world. If all homes could model this, what a different world we would have.
A good exercise would be to make lists of the pluses and minuses of each of your personality types. No one is right or wrong. Look at what it is about yours that drives your husband nuts and vice versa. Getting a more objective view will help in reducing your judgments.
Your husband and son might butt heads more because they are different, but typically the resistance from the child comes from feeling criticized and judged. If your husband wants him to do things his way, those attempts at control will create friction. And if your husband feels judged or criticized by you, he will feel threatened and try harder to gain your son’s loyalty. This will not go over well.
When I first read your question, in my mind I saw a lot of laughter emerging over lost keys, etc. When you can accept differences, you can then embrace them and find the humor. It’s the insecurity from criticism that create defensive behaviors. And thus conflict.
Have a talk with your husband. Admit any criticism you have had toward him about his choices. Let him know that you may not agree with each other about how to handle certain parenting choices, but you are sorry for being judgmental and trying to get him to be more like you. Talk about how you can agree to disagree. Decide that if you feel strongly about how the other has handled a situation that you will talk about it that night after your son is asleep. Then always come from “I”. “I felt very upset today when I saw ….” “I don’t like it when I hear….” That can be heard so much better than the blame from “You can’t do that. You have to…. You should….”
Agree that in the moment, neither of you will undermine the other in how you are managing a situation with your son—unless you have agreed on a code by which you are signaling the other to take over if you are losing it and need help. It’s easier to take responsibility for one’s emotions and actions when there is understanding without blame.
To sum up: Whoever is in charge of the situation should handle it the way that one sees fit. Allow the differences up to a point. When one highly disagrees, save any talk until that night and begin with “I”. Then come up with a way to handle it that you both can agree on. This is the talk that usually never gets done and can make all the difference.
No, this is not easy, but it is so much easier when there is acceptance of different styles with no blame involved. I always say, you don’t have to parent on the same page, but it’s important to be in the same book.
Tell Me About Your Kids Podcast episode 25, Jan.7, 2021: When Conflict between Parents Needs the Big Conversation