“Do you think it’s ok to spank?” “Of course,” I said. “Really!? You’d spank our baby girl?” Hmm. It was our first conversation about parenting styles and we quickly realized how different our experiences and expectations were. She was a student of “love and logic,” and I was a student of “tough love and do what you’re told.”
We had a long way to go to create a unified presence where our strengths and weaknesses complemented each other. Here are a few things I’ve discovered about merging parenting styles…
There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to parenting but it’s also true that not all parenting styles are as equally effective. My favorite way to think about parenting styles is with a simple 4-quadrant graph that describes the relationship between the level of nurture and structure we give our kids.
Children need high structure and high nurture. It’s helpful to look at this graph and try to identify ways that you can increase your level of nurture or structure.
–Our parenting style is, at some level, a reaction to our experience as children.
It may be a simple extension of our parent’s strengths and weaknesses or an attempt to offer our kids the exact opposite of what we experienced.
–Expect conflict when merging individual parenting styles.
Parents will often try to compensate for deficiencies they perceive in their spouse by exaggerating the style that comes most natural to them. The most common dynamic is between the authoritarian and permissive parent.
-Our parenting style has a strong impact on our children.
Starting with the work of Diana Baumrind in the early 60’s, developmental psychologists have studied the impact of parenting styles on children. Many websites now detail these findings.
Expect a learning curve.
Talk about your experience as a child and how it shapes your parenting style. Be open to growth. Acknowledge your differences and try to understand and combine your strengths and weaknesses toward the best interest of your child. In our home, Bonnie leans more to the nurture side and I lean more towards structure. We both try to learn from each other but also lean on each other’s natural bent. Sometimes, I can be harsh and Bonnie will remind me of the bigger picture and the importance of connection. Sometimes, I’ll see her nurture bordering on unhealthy insulation and she’ll trust me to push them in ways that make her uncomfortable. Keep talking, reading, reevaluating, and praying constantly for your kids.
Seek a united front.
When you see your spouse parenting in a way that you disagree with, address it respectfully and privately. Kids can detect any break in the lines and will exploit it!
Pray blessing over your children.
Develop a nightly routine together with your children. For some reason, kids love to talk at bedtime. Give space for connection by asking questions, listening well, and praying with your kids.
Here’s a good book for further reading: How We Love Our Kids.