Even though cooperative parenting doesn’t mean doing everything the same, it does mean that parents support each other in a way that doesn’t undermine the other parent’s authority. Here are some guidelines to help you accomplish this:
- Show respect for the other parent’s style in front of the kids
On areas where you disagree, it’s important you still show respect towards the other parent’s preferences or parenting style. So if mom has a rule that kids avoid all sweets or junk food and dad thinks this is silly, he needs to show respect for the mother’s preferences even while parenting in his own style. Dad can still take the kids out for ice cream or fast food (it’s his right and prerogative to do so), but at the same time, when kids take notice or comment about the differences, he needs to back up the other parent and show respect for her opinions:
Child: “Mom never takes us to McDonalds. It’s so dumb; she never gives us anything good to eat.”
Father: “I personally don’t agree with the rules she has, but you have to understand that your mom just wants what’s best for you. She thinks it’s really important for you to have a healthy diet, and so that’s why she has that rule. It IS good to be eating healthy. Sometimes she may take it farther than I would, but a lot of what she does is good for you, and you’ll probably come to appreciate it later. We can still indulge from time to time when you’re with me, but those are her rules, and you need to respect them at her house. I may have a tendency to feed you more junk food than I should, so it balances out in the end.”
Because this father defended the other parent’s opinions, even though it didn’t match his parenting style, he defused the issue and prevented it from becoming an area of contention. Parents can accommodate differences without usurping the other parent’s authority by adhering to a simple set of guidelines:
A) Never claim access to universal truth
You are not the all-knowing orator of this Universe, so don’t claim to be. Acknowledge that you have different opinions, but that each of you is just trying to do what you think is best in raising them. Talk about how there are bits of truth/wisdom in both approaches, and that there’s no definitive way to tell who is more “correct.”
B) Defend your partner’s opinion, and emphasize the value of discipline
Kids are more likely to take notice of parenting differences when one parent’s style is more accommodating or allows for more freedom than the other. So if you’re the more lax parent, put on your lawyer face, and do your best to defend the other parent’s style while emphasizing the potential value in their approach.
For example, talk about the value of discipline, the virtues of structure, or the benefits of eating healthy. Discuss how abiding by certain constraints can build up self-control that will come in handy later. You might even tell them a story about how monks put their own restrictions on themselves, because they understand the value of restraint as a character builder.
Kids don’t mind rules per se, but they loathe what they perceive as arbitrary restrictions. By talking up the character-building values and purpose behind the other parent’s style, you make these rules seem less arbitrary, and thus, less burdensome or unfair.
- Recognize the power of compromise
The beauty of compromise is that each person can give up some ground without having to abandon their principles. This works especially well when it comes to parenting, because it’s not an all or nothing game. It wouldn’t kill mom to loosen up her no sweets policy slightly, and it wouldn’t hurt dad to try and cut back a little on the junk food and eat healthier. When both parents bend a little in this manner, they can CLOSE THE GAP that exists between them, which will greatly eliminate the potential for problems. Neither parent needs to abandon what they believe in, nor even meet in the middle. Simply moving slightly closer together will shrink the gap and eliminate the problem in most cases.