Sometimes, two parents want different things for their child. Conflicts in parenting styles or rules are almost inevitable; however, it is important to hear each other out when conflict emerges.
Be a polite, active, and empathetic listener when your child’s other parent comes to you with a problem or issue, and expect the same in return. Keep your cool when discussing parenting conflicts, and don’t use them as an opportunity to unload about every way the other parent grinds your gears. Negotiate a solution together and develop more unified strategies to limit future parenting conflicts.
Talking it Out
Hear what your child’s other parent thinks. By listening to your child’s other parent, you can begin to understand the source of the conflict and work toward a solution. Listening requires an open mind. Do not go into a conversation about a parenting conflict with your child’s other parent without giving them a fair hearing. Pay attention to what they have to say.
- Empathize with the other parent. Try to see things from their point of view. Imagine yourself in their place and ask yourself how you might feel.
- For example, if your child’s other parent says, “I think that our child would benefit from a trip to the beach” but your child is scared of sharks, you might be opposed to the idea. But after hearing them out, you might think to yourself, “My child’s other parent is only trying to show our child that they do not have any real reason to be afraid of sharks, since shark attacks are exceedingly rare, and the joy of swimming in the ocean will certainly outweigh any fear they might have.”
- If your child’s other parent has remarried, you should speak to both of them to understand their position regarding the conflict. After hearing what your child’s other parent thinks, find out what their spouse think. Turn to them and ask, “So, how do you feel?”
Draw attention to the conflict.
If you and your child’s other parent disagree about a certain policy or punishment regarding your child, they might not realize it. For instance, if you do not allow your child to drink soda on a school night because it keeps them up too late, your child’s other parent might not know your rule or your reasoning. If you find that they are allowing your child to drink soda on school nights, say, “I’ve noticed that our child doesn’t sleep as well when they drink soda at night.
- Inform the child’s other parent of your rule. In the above case, you might say, “For this reason, I do not allow our child to drink soda on school nights.”
- Suggest that they conform to the rule. In the above case, you might say, “Can I count on you to also keep our child from consuming soda during school nights?”
- If your child’s other parent has remarried, you should also address their spouse when describing the conflict and making your request. If they cannot be present when you draw attention to the conflict, connect with them later to address attention to the conflict, or ask your child’s other parent to do so. Remember that you are all parenting together, and hopefully, you can grow into making decisions together.
Express yourself without blaming.
Avoid accusatory language in the form of, “You are a bad parent,” or, “You are not a good person.” Instead, focus on “I” statements like, “I feel frustrated about how different our rules are for our child,” or, “I am disappointed that our child did not complete their homework when they were staying with you over the weekend.
- If your child’s other parent is your spouse, you might say, “Dear, I am worried that our child consumed too many sweets and candies while I was away on a business trip.”
- This will help you express your perspective while being respectful of the other person. Accusatory language and blaming will only lead to embarrassment or frustration on the part of the other parent.
- Focus on the differences between you and your child’s other parent, rather than on the fact that your way is right and their way is wrong.
- Do not look at the discussion about your parenting conflict as a contest to be won. Look at it instead as an opportunity for you and your child’s other parent — or parents, if you and/or your child’s other parents have divorced and remarried — to solve a problem.
- These discussions can be loaded with a lot of emotions and should be handled delicately. Remain respectful and try to work together with your child’s wellbeing in mind, putting aside any resentments or hurt feelings you may have. There may be a lot of disagreements early on, but be open to growing into making decisions together — all three (or four) of you. The better you communicate, the easier it will be.
Avoid generalizations. Using words like “always” and “never” or phrases like “all the time” or “every time” tend to cause you to express technically false information. Instead, use actual examples of occasions in which the cause of the conflict was manifest.
- For instance, you might say, “Last Wednesday, Sally did not do her homework while in your care. She also didn’t do her homework over the weekend. I am concerned this is becoming a problem. What can we do to ensure she gets her homework done in a timely manner?”
- Do not blame your child’s other parent if the conflict really lies with the spouse of your child’s other parent. For instance, if you are unhappy about the fact that the spouse of your child’s other parent was responsible for taking them out to a movie with excessive violence, talk to your child’s other parent about the issue, but do not say, “You took our child to see a movie with excessive violence.” Instead, say, “I heard our child went to see a very violent movie with your spouse on Friday.”
Stay in control of your emotions.
If you lash out in an emotional way, you will startle or anger your child’s other parent, making it more difficult to resolve the parenting conflict in a rational way. Do not curse at your child’s other parent, use foul language, or intimidate them verbally or physically.
- Keep unkind opinions and feelings to yourself, or find a way to express them in a constructive way.
- Do not make snide comments to the spouse of your child’s other parent (if they have remarried), or to your own spouse if they are not your child’s biological parent about the appropriateness of contributing to the solution of a parenting conflict. For instance, avoid saying, “You’re not my child’s real father.” This could be hurtful and will make it harder to solve the parenting conflict.
- Unkind words to your child’s other parent are also not helpful. Avoid saying things like, “You don’t care about our child.”
- When you give respect, you can get respect.
Be honest about your emotions.
If you feel frustrated by your child’s other parent and their apparent unwillingness to cooperate with you in order to solve parenting conflicts, you should express that feeling in a polite and constructive way. For instance, if you and your spouse are having a parenting conflict, you might say, “I am frustrated that we’re clashing over this. I hope we can resolve it soon for the good of our child.
- Other feelings you might experience during a parental conflict include disappointment, embarrassment, shame, anger, and hatred.
- Remember, if you are a parent of a child who is not your biological child, your opinion and feelings matter, too. Both of the child’s biological parents should be open to hearing what you have to say regarding any parenting conflicts.
Pay attention to the feelings of your child’s other parent.
When there is a parenting conflict, your child’s other parent might have feelings about it. It is important to recognize and acknowledge these feelings in order for the problem to be fully resolved.
- Do not simply pay attention to the conflict as described and neglect the feelings that the conflict inspired.
- For example, if your child’s other parent says, “I feel really frustrated that Junior’s bedtime at your house is different than bedtime at my house,” do not simply say, “Let’s work on finding a bedtime we can both agree on.”
- Instead, start by acknowledging how your child’s other parent feels. You might say, “I hear that you’re frustrated. Let’s talk about it more and find an amicable solution.”
- If you and your spouse are having a parenting conflict, but they are not the biological parent of the child you share custody of, their opinion matters, too. Do not make them feel that their feelings are unimportant when solving parenting conflicts. This may be difficult at first, and their involvement may be somewhat limited. But as you get to know them and work together, the involvement of the non-biological parent should grow (with your support).
Use and understand nonverbal communication.
When solving parenting conflicts, it is important to make your meaning clear through nonverbal as well as verbal communication. Additionally, it is important that you pay proper attention to the facial expressions and gestures that your child’s other parent might display.
- For instance, you can use a reassuring tone of voice or knit your brow in concern when explaining your side of the parenting conflict.
- If appropriate given the state of your relationship with your child’s other parent, you might choose to gently squeeze their arm when solving your parenting conflicts. This shows them that you understand and care about their concerns.
- When your child’s other parent speaks, you might find that you keep your hands at your sides rather than crossed in front of you (which could be read as a defensive posture).
- Look directly at your child’s other parent, making eye contact. Nod encouragingly as they explain the conflict as they see it. Use encouraging words and sounds like “Yeah,” or “Mm-hmm” as they explain themselves.
Manage Your Stress
Solving parenting conflicts can be stressful. Managing that stress while solving parenting conflicts is an important way to ensure that the conflict ends in a healthy and positive way. There are many ways to manage your stress.
- Try yoga. Yoga is an ancient art that originated in India. It involves moving the body to various positions for a predetermined amount of time and places great emphasis on breathing.
- Get some exercise. Exercises like running, walking, weight-lifting, or swimming are great for helping you relax and manage stress. Try to get at least 2.5 hours of stress-relieving exercise each week.
- Try breathing techniques. Breathe in for three seconds through the nose, then out for five seconds through the mouth. Repeat three to five times or until you are comfortable and relaxed.
Stay focused on the issue. If you and your child’s other parent are discussing a parenting conflict regarding when your child ought to be picked up from school, it does no good to start talking about a conflict you perceive regarding the vacation you know your child’s other parent is planning for your child. Instead, stick to the topic of when your child should be picked up from school.
- If you have multiple parenting issues to address with your child’s other parent, wait until you’ve solved one in a satisfactory way, then address another. This will prevent you from stockpiling complaints and potential sources of conflict.
- Likewise, don’t allow your child’s other parent to rope you into a conversation about how late your child stays up if the topic at hand is when your child should be picked up from school. To avoid such a situation, say, “I believe that what you’re saying is a valid concern, but I’d like to focus on the topic at hand for now.”
- Do not bring up past parenting conflicts, either. This will not allow the present conflict to move toward a resolution process. Instead, it will only dredge up feelings of hurt and loss from an earlier period.
Negotiate a solution.
Solving parenting conflicts always requires some form of negotiation so that your expectations and needs as a parent and those of your child’s other parent are met. This will require both of you to put your heads together and find a compromise — a solution that is not ideal to either of you, yet acceptable for both of you. This might take time, or it might be relatively simple.
- For instance, imagine that you allow your child to ride their bike in driveway only, but your partner wants to allow your child to ride their bike around the block. You might be able to meet in the middle by allowing your child to ride down the block but remaining within eyesight of the house, thereby extending the range of your child’s bike-riding activities.
- Alternately, either you or your partner can accede to the standards set by the other. For instance, when listening to your partner’s reasoning about why your child should be allowed to ride their bike around the block, you might come to see their logic. You might say, “Yes, I see your point and I agree that our child has outgrown my rule. We will change the rule and allow our child to ride their bike around the block.”
Forgive your child’s other parent. When solving parenting conflicts, remember that both you and they want what is best for your child. You just have two different perspectives. Do not hold a grudge against your child’s other parent or bring the conflict up long after it was resolved.
- Remember, forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget about the parenting conflict or pretend it never happened.
- Instead, forgiveness after a parenting conflict means that you have chosen not to remain angry or frustrated by the fact that you and your child’s other parent did not see eye to eye on a particular issue.
- Remember that both you and — hopefully — all other stakeholders (including your child’s other parent, the spouse of your child’s other parent, and/or your own spouse if they are not your child’s birth parent) learned something. For instance, perhaps you realized through the conflict that you and certain other stakeholders in the parenting conflict have different parenting style and you won’t always agree.
- If you wish, you could tell your child’s other parent that you forgive them. For instance, you might say, “Since we’ve come to a reasonable solution regarding our parenting conflict, I forgive you for all that happened.” If you feel you deserve some of the blame for the conflict, you might add, “I hope you can forgive me, too.”
Define rules with the other parent as a proactive way to address conflicting approaches. If you and your child’s other parent differ significantly in the way you wish to raise your child, you will have conflicts. One way to solve (and avoid) conflicts in parenting is to share a common set of rules, expectations, and punishments.
- For instance, if you allow your child to eat many sweets before bed but your child’s other parent does not allow your child to eat sweets before bed, your child might get confused or even come to resent the other parent.
- To prevent this, share your own perspective and expectations regarding your child’s behaviour with your child’s other parent. Be honest about the sort of rules you think are best for your child. Work to convince your child’s other parent of the rightness of your own position using rational, persuasive arguments.
- Of course, if your child’s other parent remains unmoved, you might have to accept that the two of you may simply not be able to have completely identical parenting rules and strategies, especially if you are divorced. Communicate openly and honestly with your child’s other parent and try to keep your rules as closely aligned as possible.
- In order to achieve greater consistency in your parenting strategy, let your child’s other parent know of your rules and parenting strategies as you make them. This will help the two of you avoid future conflicts.
Choose your conflicts carefully. Don’t make every difference between you and your child’s other parent a source of conflict. For instance, if you and your child’s other parent have two different bedtimes but they differ by only 10 minutes, the difference is not terribly significant. Your energy would be better focused on more important parental issues like the fact that your child’s other parent allows your child to watch TV for an unlimited amount of time and does not require your child to dedicate any time towards homework.
- Taking your child’s other parent to task for every imperfection or difference will not lay the foundation for a positive relationship or enhance your ability to solve parenting conflicts.
This version of ”How to Solve Parenting Conflicts” was expert co-authored by Klare Heston, LICSW on May 12, 2018.