In this month's Ask Kindred Place segment, therapists Crystal Carter, Liesl Danley, and Angela Rusk discuss how to navigate different parenting styles. Below you will find an excerpt from their conversation.
Did you miss last month's conversation covering the topic of Relationships? Or do you want to read it again? You can do so here.
My partner and I come from different cultural backgrounds and ideas of what our parenting style should be. What advice do you have for couples who are navigating different approaches when it comes to parenting?
Crystal: When people have contrasting parenting styles, it's important to be respectful of one another and communicate honestly what your opinions and ideas mean to you. Each family will be different; some things will hold a different value for you or your partner, and communicating that is vital.
Kindred Place's motto is "Up until now, from now on." Families can apply this motto as they navigate their cultural or parenting differences – what does from now on look like for your family?
Angela: One thing that can be helpful is to sit down with your partner and have a discussion about what your core values are. There is a good chance that you and your partner have some very similar core values and, regardless of your background, you probably have more in common than different about the important things.
For example, many cultures highly value respect, but you might expect that to be expressed in different ways depending on your background. So as a family, how can you make sure that you're upholding those important values in a way that both partners can feel OK about?
Crystal: Right, how do you envision your family that you're making together? It's beneficial to identify those core values and decide how you want to teach them.
Often, though, we have different parenting styles. Some people are more laid back; some people are more authoritative; some more authoritarian; some people are a little more passive; or a combination of all of them, which we often are. People don't usually stay in one parenting zone, so finding that balance within the family is key.
And sometimes, guidance is needed in figuring out what that balance looks like for their family. Parenting classes—like Kindred Place's Nurturing Parenting or Adolescent Parenting—can help parents decide how they want to move forward as a family.
Liesl: And when you do get to those points where you aren't sure what that compromise looks like, that's when a parenting class or family counseling is helpful.
It takes a lot of time and communication and each individual being willing to put their wants or issues aside and put the children first. It can be hard work and sometimes a long process, but it's worth the effort.
Angela: I think that covers a lot of it, whether it be blended family issues or issues of different cultures and parenting styles. At the end of the day, we have to remember that we have to put the child's needs first, and that's more important than us getting our way with how we think things should be done. The reality is that there are a lot of different healthy ways of raising a child. Ultimately the goal is to raise the child in an environment that values the perspective of every family member and manages conflict in healthy ways.
Liesl: Because many times parents see it as if it's not my way, it's wrong; my way is the right way. And it doesn't mean that your way is the only right way. There can be two right ways; they're just different. If you are willing to listen, you can both learn from each other and then pull collective understanding together and come up with something even better, and it's such a satisfying feeling when you do get to that place.
Respect for each other is another huge component. You need to communicate in a way that expresses why certain things are important to you instead of being domineering or inflexible in your way of doing things. How we communicate can go a long way.
Angela: I think this is true regardless of the dynamics of our relationship, but particularly if we know that our partner comes from a very different background than we do, we need to constantly remind ourselves that our partner is probably not doing a certain thing just to annoy us or to be irresponsible. Often they're doing the best they can, and they just see reality a little bit different than we do, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Crystal: All of this keeps circling back to compromise. Two people will have different ways of doing things, so everyone needs to get their needs met, which typically requires compromise. Relationships are about give and take, and so at times, you're going to give, and at other times you're going to get what you want; it shouldn't be one-sided all the time. There should be balance.
As Angela said, the children's needs and what's best for them must be put first instead of defaulting to how things have always been done.
Liesl: When two people are in a happy, healthy relationship and can respect each other and communicate openly and honestly, they should be able to come to a compromise. And if there's ever a point when there's a stalemate, conflict in the family, or feelings of isolation, then that could be a sign that something deeper going on that's driving those feelings; some individual work needs to be done, or it's time to seek out a class or family counseling.
Crystal: Right, and being able to have that communication and dialogue is important. But I know some people don't like to have these honest discussions because they are afraid it may turn into an argument, but an argument isn't bad; it's just a disagreement. What makes it bad is when we make it unhealthy – when we're trying to say things to hurt someone; when we're attacking people in their soft spots; when we're using language we know will be offensive.
But the argument itself isn't bad, it's just two people trying to talk out something they disagree on, but if we see it as this bad thing, then we avoid it, which can make the problems worse.
Angela: I think it's important to remember that as human beings, we all need help sometimes. Parenting is challenging for everyone, and many parents are currently facing additional stressors. Taking advantage of resources in the community, such as professional counseling or a parenting class, can be an opportunity to turn a challenge into a time of growth for both you and your family.