January 16, 2023

Ep. 82b – Rachel Cram – What To Do When Parents Parenting Styles Differ?

In this episode, a parent asks, “Will our kids be confused by the difference between my partner’s and my parenting style?”

It’s not uncommon when one parent leans one way in an aspect of parenting for the other parent to lean the other way. Our kids can handle that best when we can handle that best.

Join us as we dig into this great question!

Episode Guest

Rachel Cram

Rachel Cram is the founding director of Wind and Tide Education Community which she started in the basement of her White Rock home, January 1987. Wind and Tide is built upon the foundations of whole child development and has grown to include over 160 staff and 35 campus locations across the lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada.

Rachel is also a Mom to 6 fabulous kids, and the host of family360, created by Wind and Tide to provide current conversations with specialists, artists and storytellers, exploring parenting, family and life together.

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Ep. 82b – Rachel Cram – What TO Do When parents Parenting Styles Differ?

RC – Welcome to family360 and our second Q&A session from episode 82, titled Feelings, Wooo Feelings:Emotional Development In Kids. I know you’re wanting me to sing. That is not going to happen. No.

RS – I really think they need to hear your lovely singing voice.

RC – Well, not today. The topic of today’s question is about “What to do when partner’s parenting styles differ?”

RS – So here’s the question that was put to us.

“My partner and I tend to disagree when it comes to supporting our kids’ emotions. I lean towards wanting to be an emotion coach for our kids and he leans towards a more traditional way of parenting like his parents parented him. I know you said emotion coaching only needed to happen 30% of the time but if it all comes from one parent does that work? Will the difference in our response confuse our kids?

RC – Such a good question.

RS – Yeah. This email didn’t share the ages of the kids, but I think a question like this is so common when children are young.

RC – It is. Especially in the first decade of raising kids, it’s not uncommon for one parent to lean one way in an aspect of parenting and the other parent lean the other way. Kids can handle that.

Kids will come into contact with so many teachers and other adults who have different ideas and seeing parents take different approaches can help them adapt to that. So when this parent asks, “Will it work if 30% of the emotion coaching comes from me? It definitely can. Emotional development is just one component of whole child development – there’s also social development and physical, cognitive, spiritual development. Emotion coaching is important but so is reading to your children, encouraging their interests in sports or hobbies, knowing their friends, providing them with food and shelter, nurturing their spiritual appreciation for wonder and awe – the list goes on and on.

If each parent encourages the other to nurture their kids from their own capabilities and areas of interest and understanding, together you can cover a lot of ground.

RS – When I read the words, “more traditional parenting like his parents parented him,” my sense is that this Mom’s concerned. Is there a wise way to go about a conversation like this between partners?

RC – That’s very sensitive ground isn’t it?

RS – Oh, it sure is.

RC – Likely because, as this mom is saying, it’s so often connected with how we were raised ourselves. Which is complicated. We’re very attached to that or often not attached to that – wanting to be different. I think back on any time when my husband or I have critiqued each other’s parenting approaches. It’s extremely difficult not to take offense.

I wonder if this Mom could explore the ways that she and her husband’s parenting styles, (not just with emotion coaching, but in general), the way that their parenting styles compliment each other, because they likely do. As parents, often unconsciously, we adjust how we’re showing up to give balance to our partners’ style or to how they’re showing up at that moment. For example, if one parent is really focused academically; so getting the homework done, math facts learned (you know, like those lists of multiplication tables) spelling tests, getting the grades. Very often the other parent is much more laid back about school work so that the home environment doesn’t become overly focused on performance. And as long as both parents support each other’s role, that dynamic can create a great balance.

Or if one parent focuses on table manners, the other one focuses on creating a fun mealtime experience so the kids want to be part of family mealtimes.

RS – It’s like a teeter totter.

RC – How so?

RS – If one of you moves in one direction the other moves in the other direction to maintain a sense of balance.

RC – That’s a really good analogy. This mom asks, “Will the difference in our responses confuse our kids? Well, if the parents are aware and appreciate their teeter-totter skills, that can be a very rich and expansive parenting team – as long as their, teeter totter – I’m going to keep using your analogy there – as long as that balance rests on some shared values.


RS – Give some examples Rachel, of shared values that would pertain to emotional development in kids.

RC – Ok, well two parents might agree that spanking or belittling, or shaming a child is not part of their parenting. They don’t want to be a part of any of those aspects and so they agree to hold each other accountable to those values. Or they might agree that regular one-on-one time with each child is important, or family mealtimes, or certain bedtime routines are important, and so they hold each other accountable to those values, knowing that neither parent will nail it all the time and that there’ll be wonderful interactions your partner has with your child that you’re not even around to see. You might not notice. And you have to be sensitive to that.

I know for myself, if I come home from work and my husband Dan’s been home with our kids, I try to not make any parenting comments within 30 minutes or an hour of coming in the door because I don’t know what’s been going on during the day while I’ve been away. So, if one of our kids is looking miserable. Maybe they’re sitting at the table doing their homework, it’s not the time to be an emotion coach and say things like, “Oh honey, you’re frustrated about needing to do your homework before dinner,” because I don’t know the scope of emotion that’s gone on before I came in.

Or, if Dan’s having an altercation with one of our kids who doesn’t want to set the table for dinner, that’s not the time to say, “Sweety, you’re hungry,” to your child, “Sweety you’re hungry, and setting the table can feel like too much when you’re hungry.” Or comment on Dan’s parenting approach. Unless it’s a situation that’s endangering a child, the best practice is to support each other in public as parents and disagree in private. For one, that’s courteous to your partner, but also it’s really stressful for kids to be in the center of their parents’ conflicts. Even if you feel like your defending your child or trying to come to their aid, if what you’re saying is putting you at odds with their other parent, or making the other parent appear foolish, or ignorant or wrong, that’s really uncomfortable and alarming for a child. And if they find themselves in that place, that often leads to problem behaviors in a child.

RS – So, when you’re in private then, what would be the wise way to approach the topic?

RC – Well, timing would be important. Choosing a time when trust is ideally high – when there’s a “high emotional bank account” they call that. And there’s time for a conversation. A phrase like, “I feel uncomfortable when told, (say Jimmy,) I feel uncomfortable when you told Jimmy he needed to be at the breakfast table in 30 seconds or you’d take his phone away. I know he was working to get his homework done. Where were you coming from at that moment?”

And then be prepared to listen with genuine curiosity and appreciation for where your partner was coming from. This can’t be a rhetorical question. The intent can’t be to catch them out or prove them wrong or it’s going to be ineffectual. Conversations like this are about being heard – listening and validating each other’s emotions as parents, just like we want to do for our kids. It might not be the moment for fixing.

Often being genuinely heard gives a gentle way towards change because it gives us time to think through what’s taking place and what we want to take place. So, when we ask questions of each other like this, often listening and validating is really what’s most important.

RS – Yeah, but that’s tough if the parent who is asking this ‘none rhetorical question’ has a sense of urgency and really is wanting an immediate change.

RC – Oh yeah, I know that feeling in myself and I know that sometimes if I’ve dialed into an aspect of parenting – say I’ve read an insightful book or listened to a podcast on parenting, that can trigger these kinds of challenges. If I’ve just interviewed someone on family360 – a specialist on a topic I’m wrestling with – and if I’m inspired by their insights, I can get really focused and even urgent on changing how Dan and I are parenting. And, if Dan’s not on that page, if that’s not his focus at that moment, it can be really confusing for him because he has his own focus going on. And I might not be aware of his. So, find it helpful to slow my urgency down. Parenting is a lifelong relationship. There is time. There is space for experience and practice and natural unfolding of growth.

Parents and families grow and change together.
This Dad may find parenting older kids easier than younger kids. You might find parenting younger kids easier than teenagers. You’ll learn from each other. And you can both learn about parenting together by listening to podcasts, reading parenting books by experts you both respect and trust. And if the tension this mom in this email continues, family or couple counseling helps address underlying issues when parenting styles clash and how to bridge that gap. So, that can be really helpful as well.

But in all of this, it is really important to prioritize your parenting partnerships – whether that’s with a spouse or a co-parent living in another home. Prioritizing that relationship is always time well spent. Your connection makes your kids feel safe under the united banner of your care.

So, I hope that helps.

RS – Thank you Rachel.

RC – You’re welcome.

RS – Our next release is the 3rd and last question from episode 82 and we’re talking about parent emotions. How do we share emotions with our kids? Is it ok to cry in front of our kids? Is it ok to let our kids know they’ve made us angry or frustrated? Great questions! Join us!

Episode 63