Are Parenting Disagreements Challenging Your Partnership? P.L.E.D.G.E. to Make it Work for Your Stepfamily!
It never fails…put a group of moms together and bring up a parenting topic - anything from nutrition and potty training to screen time usage and dating protocols. What you'll get is a passionate debate with diverse opinions about what works and what doesn't - what's healthy and unhealthy - what's right and what's wrong! And it isn't just moms who have differences and disagreements when it comes to parenting choices.
Parenting can be a touchy topic for first family parents, but it's especially tough for step-couples. Working as a team and learning how to navigate parenting decisions within step-family dynamics is one of the most difficult and stressful challenges that step-couples face.
Simple or complex...this is tough stuff
As Mike and I learned early on, even in 'simple' step-family dynamics (where only one partner has kids), parenting can easily lead to conflict. Our first fight, our biggest fight and several others were due to parenting my daughter Annika. When and how to discipline her; what limits and boundaries should be enforced. We had different expectations about what respect and responsibility looked like and our differences quickly evolved into full-blown disagreements.
We've coached many step-couples with 'complex' dynamics (where both partners have kids), for them, discipline challenges are magnified. Each has their own parenting style and specific ideas about the right way to handle parenting and discipline. And, each has their own set of standards - with their kids - around how things have typically been handled in the past.
Regardless of your step-family structure or how many kids are in your home, step-couples should anticipate that difference and disagreements around parenting is going to be your 'new normal'. But, you don't have to stay stuck in conflict - you can discover common ground so that your new normal doesn't become a reoccurring nightmare.
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Don't Get Stuck…'PLEDGE' Instead!
P - Plan. The good news is that most kids are predictable in their struggles with poor behavior. This works to our advantage! If we can recognize when and how each child typically acts out, then we can work together to plan how we will handle it.
My daughter, Annika used to throw huge fits whenever she didn't get her way. We decided to strategize how we would handle situations when Annika kicked off with one of her fits and we anticipated when we'd need to put our plan into action. Planning ahead of time helped us define our individual roles and gave us confidence that we could come through for each other in those stressful moments. It also allowed us consistently teach Annika about appropriate behavior. (We recommend using a specific parenting technique or method that you can both embrace - we used Love and Logic when handling Annika's poor behaviors).
Our plan and follow through strengthened our partnership and helped to minimize conflict between us. We didn't always do this perfectly, but we kept at it. Eventually, we experienced big wins that led to more peace in our home!
L - Let It Go. Do your best to let the small stuff go and don't make mountains out of mole hills. Engaging in conflict over petty differences just isn't worth it. Pick your battles carefully and strive for imperfect progress, not perfection.
E - Endure. It may be helpful to think of yourselves as 'Parental Partners-In-Training', especially in the early years of your stepfamily's development. You'll both need to accept that it's going to take time for you to get on the same page. There will be bumps along the way as you learn to parent as partners. Hang in there, be patient with each other and don't get discouraged. And remember to keep your expectations realistic.
D - Decide to 'PLEDGE'. Don't allow your parenting differences to keep you stuck in conflict. Agree now that you'll collaborate and work together every time you hit a parenting challenge. Don't avoid these tough conversations…choose to 'PLEDGE' instead!
G - Give and Take. The key to finding common ground is a willingness to make sacrifices and compromise with your partner. Digging in your heels and demanding your way is never helpful. Instead, accept the fact that making sacrifices for the sake of your partnership is also part of your 'new normal'. Communicate and explore how you can each compromise, until you discover a game plan that works for you both.
Mike and I had very different ideas about teaching Annika how to be responsible with cleanliness. She was a messy kid and that was upsetting for Mike. Her clutter wasn't a big deal to me, so it was hard to jump in and enforce something that Mike thought was important — but I didn't. So we talked it through and came to an agreement that we could both live with. Annika was held accountable for cleaning up her messy clutter in the common areas of the house, but we didn't worry about her room as much.
E - Empathy. Strive to understand your partner's viewpoint. When Mike explained how Annika's clutter made him feel and I understood how his personality and upbringing influenced his desire for order, I was able to give him empathy. I also saw value behind Mike's ideas on teaching Annika to be responsible in this area. Understanding his perspective motivated me toward a 'give and take' mindset and prompted change. Mike also listened and empathized with my perspective and this helped to move us forward, rather than staying stuck in conflict.
Keep Moving Forward
According to stepfamily expert Patricia Papernow: "Children thrive when step-parents concentrate on connection, not correction, and parents practice caring, responsive and firm parenting." I would add that your partnership will thrive as well when you discover your parental roles and work as a team. You can PLEDGE to move beyond disagreements to discover common ground that leads to peace in your relationship!
QUESTION: What's the next step you need to take to 'PLEDGE' in your partnership? Leave a comment below...