The choices we make regarding how we raise our kids are very heavily based on how we were raised ourselves, so while it’s pretty much a given that we want ‘what’s best’ for our children, our ideas about what that constitutes usually differ to some degree. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that a harmonious parental unit is better than one in constant disagreement. However, more often than not, parents will each have their own ideas about how to educate and discipline their children.  These differences are very common and, as long as the family unit is able to approach them in the right way, they shouldn’t cause too many problems.

There are several ways differences can impact the family unit if not dealt with correctly. What often happens is that one parent will tend to be more lenient, while the other is stricter; the good cop-bad cop dynamic. Not only does this cause problems in your relationship with each other by creating resentment and frustration, it also tends to have a negative impact on your child. In order for children to learn, they need consistency. For example, if a child is misbehaving and one parent decides to punish them by removing their toys, the idea is that over time the child will learn that this behavior has negative consequences and the behavior will diminish. If, however, the other parent feels that this consequence is too harsh and decides to return the toys, the child is more likely to learn that consequences can be flexible and that they can sometimes get away with bad behavior. Children also tend to take advantage of this dynamic by relying on the more lenient parent to get them out of trouble, which undermines the whole learning process, as well as the authority of both parents.

While situations like these are common, there are ways to avoid them and work towards becoming a better unit.

Make it a point to communicate with each other as often as possible. Talk openly about the things you find unacceptable, as well as those that you deem essential to your child’s upbringing. Discuss the strategies and approaches that you feel are best and try to agree on which ones you could both use and be comfortable with. Try to have agreed upon consequences for certain behaviors in order to avoid disagreements in front of the kids.

It’s important to understand that differences are very common, and each parent has a right to their own opinions and preferences. A good example would be when one parent prefers to strictly enforce an organic and chemical free diet, but the other believes that being more flexible is the way to go. We have two approaches that don’t really match, and each side firmly believes that this is what’s best for their child. Instead of arguing in front of the children at meal times about what food is okay for them to eat, come to an agreement where the kids are allowed to eat certain foods only on certain occasions. The only way to move forward without resentment is to compromise.

Split the Responsibilities
In order to avoid the good cop-bad cop dynamic, where it is always the same parent doing the disciplining, agree to split these responsibilities as equally as possible. For example, you could decide which parent will be in charge of their child’s school performance, while the other tackles their behavior. Another approach would be to take shifts or turns, so that both parents are involved in all aspects of their kids’ lives. Whatever approach you choose, the main idea is to avoid having one parent do all the disciplining, while the other provides all the rewards.

Have Each Other’s Backs
Set this as a rule. So as not to undermine anyone else, agree to always back each other up in front of the kids and stand by the others’ decision as long as children are present. You can discuss the situation calmly and privately later on. Not only does this help create unity, but it also pushes any conversation to a time where it can be discussed more productively.

As parents, you represent your child’s primary role models, so it’s essential that they perceive you as a strong and unified team. When you disagree and argue in front of them, especially over issues related to their upbringing, you create a sense of instability. By cooperating with each other, you teach your kids to cooperate. By being consistent in your parenting, you teach your kids consistency in life. By not undermining each other, you teach your kids respect. Be mindful of what you teach your children.