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How to Stop Having That Same Old Parenting Fight with Your Partner

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Becoming parents can bring a couple closer in so many ways, but it's also no secret that differing opinions in how you and your partner want to raise your children can actually cause a lot of friction.

"We all want to raise great kids, but it's a challenging job, and we have a lot at stake in getting it right," says Michelle Brody, Ph.D., an executive coach and clinical psychologist in New York City, and author of "Stop the Fight! An Illustrated Guide for Couples." "The stakes can seem even higher if you weren't happy with how you were parented yourself and you promised yourself that as a parent you would never do 'x.' When suddenly you see your partner doing 'x,' it's not surprising that you would work hard to get him or her to stop. However, your partner may be driven by other values or promises about how he or she wants to parent, so the situation is ripe for conflict."

Dr. Brody shared some suggestions with on how to handle common parenting disputes:

A New Baby

The dilemma

Sometimes the biggest parenting fights occur right off the bat after the baby arrives.

"The time after a baby is born is so incredibly stressful, and both partners are tapped out," says Dr. Brody. "Both need more relief and nurturing from one another, but with no sleep and such a major role change, neither have any extra to give."

What to do

First, acknowledge each other's new roles and mutual stressors.

"Commiserate about how hard it is by saying things like, 'We are both struggling,' 'We are both so tired,' or 'Parenting is much more stressful than we expected,'" suggests Dr. Brody. "In other words, take the time to moan and groan together to relieve the stress." Doing so helps you both think of yourselves as teammates—you're in this together!

Another option: Dole out the gratitude.

"Find as many ways as you can to thank your significant other for doing things such as taking care of last night's 2 a.m. feeding, for letting you sleep in a little, or for cleaning up that really horrible diaper mess," says Dr. Brody. "Your gratitude enables your partner, in turn, to be more generous and appreciative, which re-invigorates your own generosity and appreciation in a positive cycle. Baby-rearing requires so much generosity from both partners, and the only way to keep generosity from boiling into resentment is to support it with acknowledgement and appreciation."


The dilemma

When it comes to how to incorporate religion and spirituality into your lives, arguments can run the gamut from which religion to practice to what specifically to believe in to which sort of rituals to follow with the family—whether that's, say, lighting candles once a week or going to church on Sundays.

What to do

Remember that, in a nutshell, religious views are about values, says Dr. Brody.

"Each parent may cherish certain religious ideas and rituals because they add meaning to their lives, so naturally, they want to share those with their children," she says. "If the parents can think about what really underlies their religious differences, they can often find some common agreement about the overall values that the practices represent. For example, one parent may want the kids to keep certain traditional practices of the religion while the other parent doesn't. Under that conflict are two values: preserving ancestral traditions (we keep the ritual because it preserves tradition) and honoring differences (we love and respect others who don't believe or observe exactly as we do, including parents!). If parents can jointly agree that both values are important, it becomes easier to find solutions to religious dilemmas."


The dilemma

One parent takes a more disciplined approach to parenting, while the other prefers a more relaxed approach.

What to do

Again, figure out which values you and your significant other are hoping to instill in your child.

"For instance, say you're super disciplined and want that for your child because it helps you stay organized and productive, but your partner is super relaxed and wants to teach the kids that being laid back is valuable because it leads to less stress; you could run into some tension as you try to teach your two different lessons at the same time," says Dr. Brody.

Instead, teach your kids that both values—in this case being organized and productive as well as keeping stress in check—are important. In other words, rather than taking the "my way or the highway approach," think of this more as a collaborative effort.

"Kids can see that Mom tends to be more laid back and Dad is more disciplined, but that helps them know that both ways of being are valuable," says Dr. Brody. "Recognizing that you are teaching a joint message helps parents not fight over which value is more important because they are each acknowledging that both are."


The dilemma

"Step-parenting can be a difficult situation to navigate," says Dr. Brody. "People can feel pulled between loyalty to their new spouse and their children."

Also, as a stepparent it can be confusing as to what your role is with the kids, which can create even more tension.

"Some stepparents get too involved too quickly with their new spouse's kids or offer too much input on how their new spouse could parent better—and those approaches tend to lead to trouble," says Dr. Brody.

What to do

Plan ahead!

"When you are about to enter into a new stepparenting situation, discuss with your partner how you'd like to manage the roles and boundaries when it comes to the kids," says Dr. Brody. "Hearing each other out is critical. Ask yourselves what each partner is hoping for in the new arrangement. What are your fears or worries about it? And how can you both support the other in managing those hopes and fears as the parenting challenges evolve over time."