Although parenting can be difficult and challenging, it can also be the most amazing and fun experience. There are many different parenting dynamics including single, married, divorced, grandparents, foster, adoptive or same-sex. Regardless of demographics, it is not uncommon for parenting styles to differ because all people have their own set of beliefs, views and way of doing things. Although not uncommon, it is a fine line that must be navigated thoughtfully.

Co-parenting is rewarding for a child but when parenting styles are different and parents cannot agree, it is likely the child will be the one to suffer. Parents who disagree on major parenting issues and sabotage each other’s efforts are doing a disservice to their children and need to work together, albeit not always in unison, to raise their children without confusing them or making them uncomfortable.

Parenting styles can be separated into three categories:

  • Authoritarian – a “parents know best” approach that emphasizes obedience.
  • Permissive – an approach which provides few behavioral guidelines because parents don’t want to upset their children.
  • Authoritative – blending a caring tone with structure and consistent limit-setting.

What makes different parenting styles particularly difficult is that parents generally have no idea what kind of style will align best with their beliefs prior to becoming parents. During the parenting process, attitudes can also quickly change based on emotions or remembering past experiences from childhood. As long as parents are open to communicating their feelings to each other, this is okay. It is when parenting styles are too far apart that problems arise.

What can couples with different parenting styles do to help their kids thrive? Getting counseling with a professional therapist can help both parents understand how their upbringing drives their parenting styles, as well as how to handle disagreements in a healthy way. It’s important to remember to keep the kids out of it. Asking children to take sides, or arguing in front of them, could be incredibly destructive. Instead, agree to disagree later, when the kids are out of earshot.

When styles are clear and parents are able to agree on topics relating to parenting and how to address those issues, children are given a wider view of grown-up values and a chance to have a special relationship with each parent. As long as parents come together as a united front, it’s healthy.

Do you have experience with different parenting styles? If so, please share how you’ve work to find a happy medium.

Amy Bontempo is the Manager of Family and Community Engagement at Penfield Children’s Center.  She supervises the Community Outreach Educator, Volunteer Coordinator, Parent Mentor Program, and Family Programs of which Penfield host over 60 per year.  She has served on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association (DSAW) of Wisconsin since 2011 and previously served on the Volunteer Respite Committee for Children’s Service Society now part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Family Resource Connection of Milwaukee Co.

Ginott, Dr. Haim G. “Between Parent and Child.” New York: Three Rivers Press, 1965. Print.

Gottman, John, Ph.D. “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heat of Parenting.” New York: Fireside, 1997. Print.

Frazier, Barbara. “Working with Different Parenting Styles.” The Successful Parent.

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