‘My wife and I have very different approaches to parenting, how do we meet in the middle?’
Effective parenting is about adopting different approaches at different times
Good parents are able to pause and choose a response that best matches the need of the individual child in front of them. Photograph: iStock
Question: My wife and I were raised in very different environments, probably both different extremes in parenting. She was raised in a very strict environment whereas I was raised in a very liberal environment. We have very different approaches to parenting as a result but I would like us to meet somewhere in the middle.
The question I have is what is effective “tough love” in terms of building resilience in your kids and, on the other side of the coin, where is the line when it comes to supporting your children’s emotional development without going so far as to spoil them?
Answer: Effective parenting is not about adopting one approach over another, but being able to adopt different approaches at different times. This means that both a “liberal” and a “strict” approach to parenting are part of the range of good parenting responses. Effective parenting is essentially about striking a balance between these two extremes and poor parenting is usually rigid and stuck in one extreme. Good parents both set rules and support children’s own decision making. They guide children with clear limits as well as supporting their free emotional expression. Good parents teach children how to behave socially and also how to be autonomous individuals.
So as you co-parent with your wife it is helpful to understand your different family backgrounds as this invariably informs how you parent today. Remember though that the past does not have to dictate the future and the best parents don’t always follow their immediate reaction (which usually comes from their own past). Instead, good parents are able to pause and choose a response that best matches the need of the individual child in front of them.
As you co-parent, the key is not to be combative about who has the right style of parenting but instead to co-operate and to support one another as you approach the challenge of raising children.
Listen and learn from each other, and make sure to appreciate your respective strengths and differences. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to provide them with the model of their two parents co-operating and negotiating well, even though they may be quite different and often in conflict.
John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He is author of several parenting and mental health books. See solutiontalk.ie.