Differences in parenting styles are a problem for both parents and children. At the least, it invites kids to play one parent against the other in a smart attempt to get the answer that they want to hear. This is not the child’s fault. After all, a child is just using good common sense! However, it does create a situation in which rules are not clear or consistently enforced, which is bad for the child as well as for the parent.
At its extreme, a polarization of styles can occur in which one parent compensates for the perceived weaknesses of the other. For example, if the father is too strict, the mother may overcompensate by becoming more lenient. That may prompt the father to become even stricter as he attempts to overcompensate for her leniency. The result can be a very confusing world for the child to navigate—one that can set the stage for mental health problems in some children.
While parents do not have to be identical in parenting styles, they should agree to discuss matters between them and come to an agreement about what to tell the child. This may require compromise between the adults, before even beginning to involve the child.
To help parents find a successful middle ground, or in the case of single parents, to understand where they may want to modify their own style, it is helpful for them both to take a parenting course, or to at least read and discuss the Parent’s Guide. Many parents have taken an Active Parenting course and then shared what they learned with their partners. Often, the partner then wants to take the course, too. The goal is not to parent identically, but to find common ground and to learn to support each other as well as the children.
-Michael H. Popkin, Ph.D.
Author: Active Parenting