You’re too soft! You’re too harsh! When Parents Can’t Agree

Most parents know that they are supposed to agree on childrearing.  It’s better for children if parents present a united front.  That’s all well and good when you agree.  What about when you don’t?  If you have a child who has ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, or anxiety, it is likely that you are presented with behaviors and situations that you did not expect.

Here is a quick list of the major points in coming to agreement.

  1. Acknowledge that it is hard work.  Ross Greene, Ph. D, who wrote The Explosive Child, says he assumes that parents are doing the best they can.  I totally agree.
  2. Find time to talk about the problems without children present.  Difficult, but essential.  Worth the effort.
  3. Try to find and express some empathy for each other. Do you understand enough about your partner’s background and disposition to understand why he acts the way he does?  Perhaps you might ask.
  4. Without blaming tell your partner what you see and how you like things to be.  “I know that Sally pushes your buttons, but I really need you not to explode in anger at her.”  Or, “When I have set a limit with Sally, please do not renegotiate with her.  That undermines me.”  Be willing to listen.
  5. Find where you agree and set a goal for how you want Sally to behave.  This might be, “Start your homework after a 30 minute break after school.  Do this with cooperative behavior.”
  6. Talk to your child together about your expections.  Sally sees that there is a new regime.  She has less room to manipulate, and she will test the system, but ultimately, she will be comforted by this approach.
  7. Follow through.  If Sally goes to Dad to renegotiate the homework agreement, he should politely refuse to engage.  If Sally starts to negotiate with Mom, Mom might need to walk away, but the basic expectation (Start your homework), still stands.
  8. Repeat.  Over and over.  Find a time to talk.  Express understanding and empathy.  State your needs without blame.  Come to an agreement about a goal.  Explain it to your child.  Back each other up.

Sometimes it is too difficult to start this process on your own.  That is where a Parent Coach can be helpful.  I enjoy this type of work because it is so helpful to parents and children.


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8 Responses to “You’re too soft! You’re too harsh! When Parents Can’t Agree”
  1. Arlene says:

    Great post. So Important for parents to be on the same page, when dealing with issues related to their children. It becomes evern more important for chilren with special needs.

  2. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks Arlene. So important and often so difficult. All parents come from different histories that inform their different opinions.

  3. Carolyn,

    I have lived through this with patients and as a parent. I can attest to the fact that things in my family go much more smoothly when my partner and I are on the same team. Even if we don’t entirely agree, we present a united front and back one another up. We’ve had plenty of those “away from the kids” discussions about the differences in our parenting styles. Over time, I think those discussions are strengthening our relationship when the parenting differences could be damaging it.


  4. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve been there as a parent as well. I agree that working on the parenting style strengthens the marriage. I see it in my life and in my work.

  5. Hi Carolyn – thanks for this post. and I think it is difficult for parents to understand that their background impacts their parenting choices. Many ppl are too afraid or feel too guilty to examine their childhood environment to help them understand their own early wounds.

  6. dr.cstone says:

    You are so right about the difficulty of confronting one’s own past and accepting that it affects parental behavior in the present. It’s a reason to be compassionate as we do this work. It’s not just teaching new strategies, but also some work on the past and considering how to respond to it. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Colleen says:

    I am sooo lucky that I have a partner who shares most of my views on parenting. Parenting is tough enough without feeling like your partner’s undermining your efforts. When I used to work with parents, I found myself mediating so many of these disagreements. If both parents feel heard and supported, they found it so much easier to negotiate something that would work for both of them. I suppose that’s true with most issues in marriage, though. 😉

  8. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Colleen,
    It is so true that if both parents feel heard they can negotiate better. I imagine that when parents work on coming to agreement about raising children that it also improves their marriage in other ways.