When parenting styles differ

When you have completely opposite approaches to child-rearing, you and your partner can find yourselves constantly at loggerheads.

Parenting is a tough job at the best of times, but it can be even more difficult if you and your partner have differing views on bringing up children. Last week, we examined the four main parenting styles as described by experts:

• Authoritarian, who are overly strict.

• Permissive, who tend to be indulgent.

• Authoritative, who find a good balance between the two extremes.

• Uninvolved, who don’t fit into any camp because they’re barely involved in bringing up their kids.

Problems can arise when one parent is authoritarian (“the bad cop”) and the other is permissive (“the good cop”).

When you have completely opposite approaches to child-rearing, you and your partner can find yourselves constantly at loggerheads, with your kids caught in the middle – and that’s no good for them.

Conflict caused by differing parenting styles could lead to your children:

• Ending up confused about what’s okay and what isn’t.

• Playing one parent off against another.

• Feeling it is their fault if mum and dad argue, especially over a difference in opinion on matters like discipline. This can lead to anxiety and even depression.

• Feeling they have to choose sides, because there’s such disparity between mum and dad. They may even end up favouring one parent.

• Growing up to have conflicting ideas about parenting, which may put them off having kids themselves.


Our own childhood experiences influence the kind of parents we become. Either we emulate our mum and dad and the way they brought us up, or we rebel against them.

Talking to your partner about their childhood and observing the relationship they have with their parents may give some insights into what kind of parent they may be – although bear in mind that everything can be quite different once you have kids. Sit down with your partner to talk about parenting issues that are likely to arise. Make sure you’re always on the same page. Subjects to discuss can include:

Expectations How do you expect your kids to behave? How much leeway are you prepared to give? What happens if they fail to

meet your expectations?

Discipline When will you discipline your kids, and how? What punishments are considered appropriate?

Trouble spots What is the greatest area of conflict?

It could be keeping bedrooms tidy, chores around the house, schoolwork or their friends.

If you can talk about your differing ideas on how to handle things (do it when the kids are not around) and compromise, you could save yourselves a

lot of grief. Set guidelines about what will and won’t be acceptable, and make sure your partner and kids know exactly where you stand.


Having differing points of view doesn’t always have to be bad. It can help you see things from another perspective. And if the two of you are prepared to meet in the middle, it will show your child that compromise is possible.


Differing parenting styles can put a big strain on a relationship. If this is an issue for you and your family, there are plenty of counselling services that

can help – your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau can point you in the right direction.


When it comes to parenting, Rob and Karen are complete opposites – she’s pretty strict, while he’s lenient.

“In our family, Rob is known as the weakest link because the kids know he will let them get away with anything,” says mum-of-three Karen.

Mealtimes have always been a source of conflict.

“I grew up in a family where table manners were important, whereas in Rob’s family they sat on the sofa and ate dinner off trays on their knees,” Karen says.

“So he’ll let the kids get away with things like eating with fingers, which annoys me.

“Mealtimes ended up a battle because the kids were getting mixed messages and played up. We had to agree on some rules. I’ve given in on a couple of points – there is some stuff they can eat with fingers and I don’t read the riot act if they put their elbows on the table. But I got my way when it came to other things. For example, there is absolutely no talking with your mouth full, and they have to ask permission if they want to leave the table. Rob knows he has to enforce these rules, and he does.”

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