Communication is key to meshing parenting styles
Developing parenting techniques that work for both parents as well as the child can start while couples are still expecting. The first step when blending parenting styles together is knowing what each parent brings to the table, said Jacqueline Rhew, child and adolescent clinical consultant for Amita Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital.
The way you were raised can inform how you parent your own children. It's possible you'll adopt the same style your parents had or you may parent in an opposite way because there were aspects of your family's parenting style you don't want to emulate.
In "The Successful Parenting Workbook," which Rhew co-authored, she writes about the importance of understanding what each parent is coming to the table with and understanding how wanting to raise children the same as or differently from their parents could impact someone's own parenting.
"Our past experiences, beliefs, and values impact how we parent," said Rhew. "Tap into experiences from childhood to see what parenting style you want to develop."
Rhew said there are three common parenting styles -- permissive, authoritarian and authoritative. Permissive parents tend to be more free, allow kids to explore and implement less rules, whereas authoritarian parents tend to set strict rules they expect to be followed, have very high expectations for their children and tend to be less responsive to their needs. Authoritative parents tend to be very responsive to their child's needs while still setting high expectations and consistent boundaries.
Just because an individual leans toward a particular style does not mean that is the only way they will parent.
"It's important to understand the different styles and know that they are fluid and fluctuate between situations," said Rhew.
Once both parents understand what their parenting styles are and have shared that with one another, it's important to start a dialogue around how you'll parent in certain situations. Before the baby is even born, Rhew said parents can discuss how they'll handle disciplining children, how they'll handle when their child is distressed, how they they'll communicate with one another when stressed themselves, and who in their support network they can reach out to in times of overwhelm and stress.
By communicating about these topics early on, parents can see where their similarities and differences lie. They can begin to form a parenting style that's unique to them and also meets the needs of their child, because what works for one child may not work for their sibling. One way parents can blend their styles, Rhew said, is by focusing more on the goals they have around parenting such as teaching the child to be responsible, manage distress or gain independence, and look at which technique support those goals. This allows for purposeful parenting as opposed to reacting to situations emotionally and helps parents find a way to align on a technique they think will work to help the child grow in a certain area.
"By focusing on the best way to meet a parenting goal, caregivers can ask each other, 'What is one way we can both respond to meet a similar goal?' " said Rhew.
Families today have lots of caregiving styles to blend together.
Divorced parents are learning to co-parent, more grandparents are stepping into a caregiving role, blended families must work to have parenting styles gel, and single parents must relay their parenting expectations to additional caregivers. The common thread is communicating expectations to everyone involved and being consistent with chosen techniques that have proved effective.
"Communication is key. Parents need to communicate their expectations to other caregivers," said Rhew. "It's important all parties be consistent, especially if the child is struggling in a certain area and really needs a stable routine."
Dr. Michelle Rose, a pediatrician with Northwest Community Healthcare Medical Group said differences of opinion about parenting styles must be talked about among caregivers and that a compromise should be sought.
"Take a moment to regroup, talk about it, and come to some sort of compromise. Do so away from the child," Rose said.
Tips for blending parenting styles:
• Set parenting goals. Jacqueline Rhew suggests parents look at where their child is and identify strengths and weaknesses. Set parenting goals to help children gain independence, improve study skills or take on more responsibilities at home. Work together to find a technique to help your child achieve those goals.
• Keep emotions in check. Rhew said when parents feel guilty or scared they can let their emotions take over their parenting. When parenting from an emotional state, it's harder to be consistent in your approach. As best you can, focus on what your goal is for the situation and parent to meet that goal.
• Be aligned. When parents don't approach a situation the same way or tend to give different answers to requests, it's easy for kids to side with one parent or make a request of the parent who usually says "yes." This can cause tension between parents and among the whole family. Rose said parents need to be on the same page and know if they're both going to say yes or no to certain requests ahead of time. Be aligned on what kids can and can't do and emphasize that you're on the same page by saying, "We feel …," or "We agree …" when setting expectations for the child.
• Avoid arguing about parenting in front of the child. Rhew said it's important to present a united front to their children, even if parents need to discuss their differing views later. "Avoid yelling, engaging in a power struggle or being critical of the other parent in front of your child," said Rhew.
• Be consistent. Once you've set an expectation, rule or routine, stick with it. "Consistency is key for development," said Rhew.
• Model behavior. Kids learn from what they see," said Rhew. Model the behavior you want your child to emulate.
• Communicate parenting expectations to other caregivers. Rhew said parents should be upfront about their parenting styles with those looking after their children. Other caregivers and grandparents will naturally want to do a few things differently, but both Rhew and Rose said if parents want something done a specific way, they need to communicate that to all involved caregivers, even if it means writing it down or providing visual cues. The initial conflict is stressful; but not resolving differences could cause unhealthy dynamics and result in parents losing confidence in their abilities. "Respecting boundaries set by new parents empowers them to continue making those decisions," said Rhew.