When parents disagree on how to raise children

January 11, 2001

When parents disagree on how to raise children

By MEG H. PARTINGTON / Staff Writer

When Mom was growing up, she did chores around the house without pay. Dad got a dollar for every completed task.

Now Mom and Dad have to decide whether to pay their son an allowance.


Let the battles of the family backgrounds begin.

Adults are likely to follow methods used by their parents or primary caretakers, said Ann Wilson, a licensed professional counselor in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

"It's really a matter of your values," she said.

Ideally, couples should discuss parenting issues before having children or when their kids are very young, Wilson said.

Couples should talk about rules their families had for curfews, bedtime and punishment, said Ginger Hart, a licensed clinical social worker in Middletown, Md.


"That's going to give you some idea of how they view parenting," Hart said.

Discuss scenarios you could face with children and how you would handle them, Wilson added.

Wilson suggested couples talk over dinner in a public place where they are less apt to raise their voices if things get heated.

Communication and love

Conflict is bound to occur while raising children, but families should nestle confrontation between doses of love, creating "a good love sandwich," said David Gatewood, a supervisor in the counseling department at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Parents need to be unified in their approach, speaking with one voice and being respectful of each other, Gatewood said.

Don't allow your child to do something you know the other parent wouldn't approve of, then tell her not to tell the other parent you OK'd it, Hart said. The more lenient parent may think she will be viewed as the nicer one, but she could be losing the child's respect, she said.

When kids figure out that their parents have differences in opinion, a process called "triangulation" may occur, which puts the child, rather than a parent, in a powerful position, Gatewood said.

"Kids really want their parents to be a team," Hart said.

Communication - which can be difficult because men and women often have different approaches - is vital.

Mothers tend to make decisions based on feelings, while fathers think more about facts and solutions, Gatewood said.

"They've got to learn a common language," Gatewood said.

There are times when one parent's preference - perhaps punishing with a time-out rather than a spanking - will dominate.

"Sometimes it isn't a compromise," Hart said.

"They need to be together on who needs to do what," Gatewood said.

If one parent handles a matter with a child and the other disagrees with the method, they shouldn't bicker about it in front of the child, Hart said.

"Better to bite your tongue than to undermine them in front of the child," she said.

And if a parent isn't sure how to handle a situation, he or she should wait until the other one gets home to discuss it, Hart said.

Another option is to try one person's way for a while and evaluate its effectiveness. If that approach isn't working, try the other parent's approach, Hart said.

Take care of each other

There are a lot of barriers to good parenting.

Health problems, fatigue, depression, family conflict and guilt can prevent otherwise grounded adults from being level-headed mothers and fathers, Hart said.

"Every parent is vulnerable," she said. "I believe 90 percent of the parents out there know what to do."

Parenting programs can help adults get some perspective, Hart said.

So can making time for each other.

"They need to take care of themselves as well," Gatewood said.

Set aside a date night and don't let anything interfere with it, he said. Days can also be set aside for each parent to be with each child.

Families may need help from a counselor "when they are having more bad experiences than good experiences in their household," Hart said.

If there's more fighting than fun, "It begins to really wear down the relationships, not only of the couple but the family," she said.

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