When Parents Have Opposing Parenting Styles

Parents having opposing parenting styles can impact children. This article helps you reach a common ground and raise a happy child.

By Judy Arnall

When Parents Have Opposing Parenting Styles


Parenting can be a real challenge for spouses with different parenting styles. Consider these ideas for a peaceful atmosphere at home

Striving for a united front always is difficult, so let’s first accept this.

Let’s imagine that you have had two hours sleep and just lost your job. How would you react to your 8-year-old spilling his dinner on your new white carpet? Let’s also suppose that your husband won a sizeable amount in a lottery and had 14 hours sleep last night. How would he react to the same spillage?

I would bet money that each parent would react very differently to the same behaviour. So why do we expect parents to present a united front to their children? Do both parents have exactly the same feelings, stresses, expectations and parenting style? They don’t. Parents are not consistent in their behaviour with each other, and they also cannot be expected to present a united front to their children on a consistent basis.

Children can handle different ways of doing things.

My son Scotty was two years old and learnt that when he shopped with daddy, he had to stay in the cart and sit in the little basket. But when he shopped with mommy, he could hang off the cart and run around. He never attempted to get out when he was with daddy, and always tried to do so, with mommy!

If any parent has ever tried to explain to their child the different voice tones expected in different environments, they would know that children can handle different expectations. Church voices, playground voices, inside-the-home voices, and naptime voices all have different volumes. Children can tell the difference and do not get confused when different environments call for a different standard of behaviour.

They learn that they can run on the playground, but not inside the church. They can jump on grandma’s sofa because grandma lets them, but not at home. They have to clean up the toys at daycare but they don’t have to do so at daddy’s house, and sometimes have to do so at mommy’s house. Don’t worry that they can become confused. They don’t.

It is okay to agree to disagree.

Instead of a united front, it’s better to create an ‘equal team’. It’s all right to disagree on how things should be handled. There are many right ways to parent and a few wrong ways. Opposing parents can discuss issues and identify the absolute non-negotiable ones in private and then present their agreed upon ones to the children. Ideally, this is what should take place. What usually happens is that there is no prior discussion. Without this, the parent who doesn’t agree, goes along with the other to present a united front to the children.

The children can always sense this and know that there is some wiggle room to work on mom or dad, whoever is the parent without the 100% buy-in. Children are not dumb. They know when one parent is not being totally honest. It’s better for all concerned, if both parents are honest with their feelings and viewpoints, but support the one parent who feels the strongest about the issue. The parent who feels the strongest will deal with it. For whom is this issue more important?

There is no need to undermine the other parent during decision-making.

You can state a different viewpoint, but support your husband on his choice. Don’t undermine him as a parent to your children. The key here is to be SUPPORTIVE, not UNITED. Honest communication is preferable. A simple statement to your child, such as, “I don’t feel as strongly about the sleepover as your dad does, but his feelings are important to me, and I think you need to go and discuss this with him if you disagree with his decision.”

The partner in the trenches is the ‘expert’ about their child.

One thing to keep in mind is that unless a person spends 14 hours a day with a child, he or she will rarely have the insight to know what it practically entails to be a parent that long, day on day. People who spend little time with children are idealists in their parenting: they are the partners at work, friends, relatives, and medical professionals. They may be the parenting ‘experts’ who tell you what you ‘should’ do.

Unfortunately, they are not around to hear you say ‘no’ twenty times in a day and only hear the one ‘yes’ you wearily espouse at the end of a long day. They think that you are being too permissive. When dealing with children for long hours, you have to take the pragmatic approach, and not the idealistic one. Just do what works! If you relent at the end of a long day, don’t beat yourself up for it! It’s okay.

There are no perfect parents.

Perfection in parenting is impossible. Do what you can for MOST of the time and you are an excellent parent!

What one partner starts, they should finish.

It is not fair to set a punishment on a child and then ask an unwilling partner to support you in carrying it out. If Dad sets a punishment for the child, then leaves town on a business trip for two days, is it really fair to ask Mom to carry out the punishment while he is gone? If parents are divorced and living in separate houses, do not expect the other parent to carry out the punishments you have issued. They may not share the same parenting style.

Agree on several core values before you have children, if possible.

Try and come up with three core values that you share and which you will work towards. In our family, my husband and I came up with:

  • No hitting anyone
  • Rudeness is not acceptable between anyone regardless of age
  • We agreed that we would raise our children at home rather than bring in outside care. Your families’ three parenting core values might be unique to your family.

Keep in mind that these eight rules will help to guide both of you towards a more peaceful parenting experience, more honest communication, and less guilt for not following the advise given by parenting books.


Judy Arnall is a professional international award-winning parenting speaker, and trainer, mom of five children and author of the best-selling, “Discipline Without Distress: 135 Tools For Raising Caring, Resonsible Children Without Time Out, Spanking, Punishment Or Bribery”. She specialised in 'Parenting the digital generation' www.professionalparenting.ca | (403) 714-6766 | jarnall@shaw.ca