Expert Advice

What to do if you and your partner have different parenting styles

Different parenting styles can cause friction in families, but the team at Relate Counselling have some tips on finding a middle ground.
Parenting styles: what to do if you and your partner want to raise your children with different values

How do you deal with a difference in parenting values? For example when one parent thinks the kids should be treated with lots of toys or gifts, while the other thinks they should learn to value of things, and learn to appreciate more non-material experiences and values?

Relate Counselling’s Steven Dromgool says:

Such a great question. Whenever a couple gets into a power struggle about different values and opinions is easy to get trapped in the mindset that the way you view the world is the only proper appropriate, caring loving way to do it. This can trigger a situation where we start treating our partner with contempt. This is incredibly toxic and dangerous for relationships.

If our intention is to love our partner well we need to move beyond position taking, and explore the values that underlie our partner’s perspective – and do this from an assumption that our partner makes sense, and that there is a good reason for their value and position.

The Gottmans have a communication tool they use call the dreams within conflict dialogue tool – you can find if you search online. It features a series of questions that you could use to take your conversation below the surface positions to the deeper longings and needs beneath.

In most cases, couples values are not in conflict, simply differently focused. So your deep conversations are really focused on asking with a great deal of curiosity and interest, “Why is this so important to you?”

You really let your partner know that you heard and can understand their perspective. Then you will probably find that it is entirely possible to develop creative and personalised ways to meet both of your core needs and parent your children using the wisdom you both hold.

For instance, your partner who showers their children with gifts, may have come from a background where they received no gifts and felt very unloved by their parents. They want the children to know that they are deeply loved, therefore they shower them with gifts. The deep value is to let their children know they are loved.

When you let them know that you understand and love them for their desire to love their kids well, you will probably find them more willing to look at alternative ways to show their love for the children.

Additionally, you will probably find that when you see your partner giving gifts to your children instead of feeling frustrated and unheard, you will see the desire to show love to the kids and it probably won’t bug you quite as much. The difference doesn’t go away but you are now connected to your partner who loves their kids, rather than an irresponsible, wasteful spendthrift.

Obviously if your conversation gets completely gridlocked, this would be an ideal sort of conversation to take to a specialist relationship counsellor to help you learn how to do the challenging task of staying in your partner’s world.

The key takeaway is that under your most difficult conflict is a deep need or value of your partner – and in most cases when we see what is most precious it totally melts us and helps us connect more deeply.

Relate’s Steven Dromgool

If you have a relationship question you want answered, email us on [email protected]. Your details can be kept anonymous.

Relate Counselling is a specialist relationship counselling service, passionate about helping Kiwis build fantastic relationships. We offer couples and individuals relationship therapy and coaching, plus training in Integrated Relationship Therapy for professionals. Find free resources including the Relationship Health Questionnaire on their site here.

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