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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 10-Jul-15 11:33:14

Guest post: "Differences in parenting style put a huge strain on our marriage"

Parenting was a constant battleground for Carole Saad and her husband - here, she describes how they finally presented a united front

Carole Saad

Author of Kids Don't Come with a Manual

Posted on: Fri 10-Jul-15 11:33:14

(20 comments )

Lead photo

"Our differences forced us into the roles of 'good cop' and 'bad cop'"

'Opposites attract', don't they? So it's not unusual for a family to have one strict parent and one more lenient one. When I met my husband, I was attracted to qualities that I did not have. However, when we decided to start a family, the differences that had brought us together threw up a whole host of unexpected problems.

I assumed that having children would unite us as a couple and bring us closer together, but after the birth of our first child we found ourselves unable to find 'common ground'; we kept falling out over our opposing parenting styles.

Of course, it's almost impossible to agree on every aspect of parenting. Our attitude towards our children and family is formed as much by our individual characters and temperaments as it is by the result of our past experiences, including how we were parented ourselves. Levels of tolerance to 'mis'behaviour, noise levels - even a child's cry – are informed far more by our 'reflexes' than by rational thinking, however much we might aspire to the latter.

I think most new parents find that their style of parenting falls into one of two categories. I'm more of an 'all-heart' parent who tends to be softer and more lenient. I focus on using love and protection as a means to establish and nurture a bond with my children. My partner on the other hand is more of an authoritarian parent. He loves his children just as much but takes a 'harder line', viewing discipline as one of the most important aspects of child rearing. He tended to focus on using his 'power' as a parent in order to instil values and modify behaviour.

We were both convinced that our parenting style was the right one and were frustrated by the other's perceived refusal to see things 'our way'.


This difference forced us into the roles of 'good cop' and 'bad cop'. We felt we had to overcompensate for each other's shortcomings, and so continued to entrench the dynamic. I was convinced that my instincts as a mum and as an experienced teacher were certainly right - or at least better than my husband's - so I kept telling him that he needed to change. In turn he felt blamed, and this made him more resistant to wanting to change. We were both convinced that our parenting style was the right one and were frustrated by the other's perceived refusal to see things 'our way'. It put a huge strain on our marriage, and we were doing our children a great disservice.

I started to read furiously, and I soon realised that what children need more than anything is two parents who have a balanced and considered approach. It is essential that they are able to work as a team, and present a united front to their children even when they don't agree with each other. But how could we – arguing most days by this stage - achieve this?

We desperately needed to get out of blame, 'guilt trips' and other forms of negative judgement. We needed to adopt a more tolerant approach to each other's styles, and try to manage our differences. Easier said than done of course, but I tried to focus on the fact that my partner, just like me, had our children's best interest at heart. He was and is trying to raise them in the way that seems to be the best in his eyes, because he loves them unconditionally.

It was useful to focus on common ground. We both wanted our children to be responsible, self-disciplined and able to stand on their own two feet, and once we'd established our joint aims, we worked together to find some simple and effective parenting techniques that we could both agree on. Slowly but surely, we developed a 'common language'. I lead by example, showing him that there are better ways to achieve the respect and obedience he expects from our children. He discovered that we could save as much as an hour a day in power struggles and arguments with our kids (and between ourselves) by using simple tools. I had him on board.

Things are much better now we can present a united front to our children, and raise them in a mutually supportive and consistent way. Learning to empathise with my partner rather than judging him for thinking differently to me was one of the most powerful and transformative realisations of our relationship. Time that used to be spent arguing is now spent with our three wonderful children. Parenting feels enjoyable again.

Carole and her husband Nadim are co-authors of Kid Don't Come with a Manual - find out more here.

By Carole Saad

Twitter: @bestofparent

WorkingBling Fri 10-Jul-15 14:57:00

This extract sounds like you have just found ways to make him do it your way.

MarkRuffaloCrumble Fri 10-Jul-15 15:47:23

My thoughts exactly working - I was hoping for some insights about compromising, I am the more authoritarian parent and we have a step-situation too, so an extra dynamic.

According to this, I just need to follow DP's lead and be 'softer' on the DCs rather than continue trying to instill discipline and boundaries. hmm

Waggamamma Fri 10-Jul-15 17:56:56

This sounds a lot like me and my dp. I think he's unreasonably harsh on the dc and it's creating a lot of tension. So what are the strategies you used to reach compromise? I'd love to know.

GooodMythicalMorning Fri 10-Jul-15 21:12:19

I was thinking it sounds like you've convinced him to do it your way too.

recyclingbag Fri 10-Jul-15 21:40:04

DH & I were like this and it led to some massive arguments.

I think we have met in the middle. There are some things I would let them get away with but he doesn't so I agree to adhere to some of those standards (mostly around table manners).

There are some things that he has had to compromise on too. Also I did have a very bad reaction to DH getting very angry with DS1 but did have to concede that sometimes it was warranted. Since I admitted DH was justified in being angry, DH has worked hard to control his temper and we have much more measured and mutually agreed consequences.

nadimsaad Sat 11-Jul-15 00:19:01

I am Carole's husband and I TOTALLY agree with your comments/concerns as I am the more authoritarian of the two and I would've reacted exactly as you do ;-). The original guest post contained some advice and more details about what we both had to do to speak a common language but it had to be cut down as it was too long :-(.
When Carole says that she 'lead by example', she means that she actually did something different so she had to change too: she started setting clearer limits and became more consistent in making sure that they would be respected. She stopped 'giving in' as soon as the kids would whine, argue, or cry as she realised that this was giving them the wrong message (that kids could get what they want if they whined or screamed enough!). However, she managed to do this with lots of empathy and without getting angry, yelling or punishing the kids as I used to do. She did this thanks to simple techniques such as applying 'Logical Consequences' instead of punishment, or 'Diffusing whining and arguing'. As I did my own research (for 3 years!) I realised that this is much more effective than what I used to do and I became interested in these alternatives instead of rejecting what she used to advocate as I did in the past. So I did meet her in the middle, but out of conviction that this was best for our kids and not just to please her. Hopefully Carole (or me?) will get to write another post about these tools. In the meantime, you can also find all this information in our book Kids Don't Come With a Manual ;-).

coatless Sat 11-Jul-15 06:32:44

I am 'good cop' and 'bad cop', pretty easygoing most of the time about most things, but I won't stand disrespect or lack of politeness towards other people (including towards me) and can be very strict about that. Seems to work.

chaiselounger Sat 11-Jul-15 18:52:02

I still think that she has made her husband do it her way.
I totally disagree with her softly softly approach to parenting and think she is doing incredible damage and a dis-service to children of this generation.

I am shocked how much 6-12 year olds have very little respect for adults and think the world revolves around them. I sincerely think that this is as a result of people like Op and their too soft style of parenting.

I wish her Dh had instilled more of his style. What a shame.

Coastingit Sat 11-Jul-15 20:24:24

Hmm. Also disappointed with this extract. I'm the more authoritarian parent in our house. But it's about balance and how to not dictate one style over another - I do like the idea of shared aims of how you want the kids to turn out, and believe that different parenting styles are fine for the kids but really hard for both parents. Especially if one does the lion's share of parenting (usually a sahm) and feels undermined or irritated by the other's approach.

BertieBotts Sat 11-Jul-15 20:54:54

No, I think this is a great post, perhaps it didn't come across well, but I've definitely been in the situation, I'm the more laid back parent and DH is the more authoritative one.

In our situation it was related to the fact my ex was "authoritative" (but actually leaning more towards abusive/wanting to lead by fear rather than actually do any work) - so partly I'd got into a habit of trying to protect DS from ex's abuse, and partly it just generally put my back up. DH is nothing like my ex but he still says or does things I wouldn't do.

When you go totally "No they're messing up, getting it wrong" and try to overcompensate it just creates a massive gulf, you push the other parent away too, they find your approach even worse and you'll never convince them of anything at all.

Whereas when you recognise that parenting styles are really on a spectrum and you try taking steps away from where you're comfortable more towards their end, it's still what you feel is right but it's more acceptable to your spouse and it helps them see your point of view that much more. Of course you also have to be willing to listen to their input, their concerns and such. In my experience just talking about it is a huge relief because otherwise you start attributing all sorts of motives to things which might be really, really far from the truth. You can still maintain your individual styles to an extent but getting more and more extreme doesn't help, it just makes things too chaotic.

Nadim I'm sure your post would be really welcome anywhere on the site, it doesn't have to be a guest post, you can join in the discussion anywhere you like (though promoting your book in every post would be dissuaded) smile

Coastingit Sat 11-Jul-15 22:44:40

Bertie - but it seems you also just believe that your way is 'right' (possibly understandably if your partner was abusive) and your aim would be to persuade your partner round to your way of doing it. Rather than either finding a middle ground where you both compromise.

I really want to find ways of accepting my partner's parenting style - not changing it. Because it's fine, really - just not the same as mine, and parenting is such an important, personal, passionate thing that I find it really hard to compromise on. Which is what co-parenting is, really. And it's probably best for kids to have two different authority figures as they learn about different boundaries early on and how to play people off each other I just find it hard as the sahp, as I feel like I set the standards and then DH undermines them by allowing hyper bedtimes, or eating on the sofa, or by talking earnestly about 'why' DS hit the cat rather than stern and brief words. None of which are wrong, but I find it very stressful and I was hoping the post would address how to deal with perfectly reasonable differences rather than how to make your partner in parenting do things the same as you.

BelleCurve Sun 12-Jul-15 00:21:58

Sometimes I am so happy to be a lone parent

Stillwishihadabs Sun 12-Jul-15 06:22:34

This is very similar to dh and I. But we attended a. parenting course together to help find a middle ground. This was great as there were impartial experts on the course. I hope we parent well now- we get lots of comments on how nice the dcs are ( (polite yet confident enough to speak up). Dh grew up in a seen and not heard family,in my family everything was a negotiation (the way we were parented has caused both of us problems in adulthood).

MrsWembley Sun 12-Jul-15 08:10:31

Oh, this is fabulous to read!

Sorry to sound so happy about such a serious and potentially damaging situation, but you know that feeling when you discover that you're not alone in you problems? Just had it!

Now to show it to DP and hope that he sees us in it...

And Nadim, your post was incredibly helpful. Yes, the op did come over as you being 'persuaded' to do things your wife's way. Sometimes compromise, with the best will in the world, can be skewed on one side and I know my DP is constantly feeling as if I am criticising him and wanting him to do things my way, but honestly, if we could find a happy common ground somewhere in the middle, I would be so happy.

I am the authoritarian in our house and I hate it, but I feel like I have to be 'Bitch Mummy' in order to counter the effect of 'Daddy Soft Touch'. I know that, as our DCs get older, they are picking up on the constant bickering and even though we also hug lots in front of them, it's in the back of my mind that we do that to let them know that Mummy and Daddy still love each other even though we argue like mad.

ThumbWitchesAbroad Sun 12-Jul-15 15:42:51

I'm the authoritarian in our family. In fact, sometimes it feels like I'm the only parent in the family, as DH has more of a "big brother" vibe going with the boys, rather than actual Dad. Until they annoy him, then he over-reacts and shouts loudly at them (but they still ignore him - although I try not to, I sometimes have to go in and sort them out. They don't do what he tells them). DH doesn't have a "soft touch" approach, he has a "we're all boys together" approach until he stops enjoying it. <sigh>

Before DS1 was born, I said I didn't want to always be the Bad Guy. That didn't work out for me, did it!

BertieBotts Sun 12-Jul-15 16:43:07

Coasting - hmm, yes and no. I no longer think that my way is more "right" than my DH's way. Whether I did in the past - you're probably right about that. There most likely was an element of me wanting to "show him the light" and the "better" way. What coming towards the middle actually did, though, yes it made him more open to what I was saying rather than it sounding like hippy-dippy stuff, but it also showed me that his way wasn't all doom and gloom and scary and oppressive. When I stepped out of my comfort zone I realised that it was actually okay there too and I didn't have to be some kind of super-bitch scary person to actually instil a bit of authority. This was kind of by accident, it wasn't as though I had read a book or anything, but it seems that by reaching out it means he is more likely to reach out too, I understand his approach more, he understands my approach more, we take bits from each other, we're still pretty different, there are still things we disagree on, but overall I have shifted, perhaps more than he has, even. It doesn't feel one sided, anyway.

carolesaad Mon 13-Jul-15 01:19:18

Thank you for all your valuable comments and for confirming that ‘good cop/bad cop’ is such a common occurrence.
I seem to have come across to some of you as a ‘softy’ ‘softy’ and to have managed to convince my DH to do it ‘my way’. In the past, I would’ve been proud of this but it never actually happened wink.
I learned the hard way that for our family life to change, I had to look for alternative ways to deal with my DH and my DCs. Everything really changed for the better when I stopped trying to change my DH and I started looking at what I could improve (like you BertieBotts, thanks for your great comments).
I discovered that neither of the extremes (too soft or too authoritarian) work as they don’t let children develop to their full potential. I needed to continue being loving and kind but also had be firm by setting better limits.
I became more consistent, stopped giving in to my kids’ whining and arguing and started making them more accountable for their actions by applying ‘consequences’ - as opposed to the punishments that my DH was using. This is what I mean by ‘leading by example’ in my post, which seems to have been misinterpreted. As this was working so well and my DCs became much more cooperative and more respectful towards me, my DH started taking notice and started being interested in what he could improve as well.
Stillwishihadabs is spot one when she mentions that a parenting course helped her and her DH become more aligned as it’s kind of what happened to us. It was working so well for us that I turned these tools/techniques into a parenting course to share with others and we ended up writing our book together.

BertieBotts Mon 13-Jul-15 09:22:07

Carole, did you run your parenting course as an actual course or just go straight into the book writing?

carolesaad Mon 13-Jul-15 14:23:21

BertieBotts, the book actually came as a result of the parenting courses. I ran them for a few years and my DH became so passionate about this that he joined me a couple of years ago to run them alongside me (that was great because stricter parents relate a lot more to his experience). This enabled us to confirm that what we had discovered was really life changing not just for our family but also for every family that try our 'tools'. We decided that it was too good not to share and so we wrote the book, including in it real life examples from our own family as well as from others parents who participated in our course.

BertieBotts Tue 14-Jul-15 08:27:23

OK thanks smile Would be interested to know how you got into such a field - it's something I'm vaguely interested in for the future but no idea really where to start.

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