Ask Maxwell: How Do I Best Settle Parenting Disputes with My Partner?

published Jul 14, 2021
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My husband and I have really different parenting styles: he tends to be really rules-oriented, while I take a less disciplined approach. Do you have any tips on meeting in the middle?


Dear Beth,

First of all, I think it’s great that you have different parenting styles and that is a real strength in terms of allowing your kids to experience and understand two different perspectives and approaches to problems that they will one day solve for themselves.

Personally, my father was very hands-off, except for major infractions and my mother tended to micromanage and stress out about everything from what we ate to falling asleep at night. My parents also got divorced when I was around 10, so I had the very real experience of going back and forth to two different houses with different styles each week. I remember finding the transitions awkward, but then loving both styles and very much emulating them — or digesting them — into my own as an adult. With one parent, you can feel free of judgement and more expansive— which is good — and with the other you can feel safe and boundaried — which is also good.

Which is just a long way of saying, if your husband has a different approach to parenting to you, I would embrace it and consider it a bonus.

The problems arise when you don’t agree and the child feels caught in the middle, and, obviously, upset if you’re both upset. Getting mixed messages is not a good thing. You want to be on the same page.

Depending on your temperaments, there a number of ways you can play it with your husband.

1. Divide and Conquer: divvy up the parenting so that you each get to lead in different areas. Perhaps you’re the food person and really want to lead on what they eat, and he is a neatness person and can lead on keeping the house in order.

2. House & Senate: another way of dividing it up, but basically a decision can come from either parent, but then the other gets to ratify it or send it back for an amendment. This shows respect and an orderly way of working things through even as they inevitably pop up.

The main thing is to model respect for one another, even as you see things differently, and know that sometimes the best decision is a compromise and some times the other side might actually have a better idea and you let them run with it. At Amazon, they have a practice, which we follow at Apartment Therapy and which might also be a good practice here, which is called “Disagree & Commit.” This means that a hearty and healthy conversation often has disagreements in it and you WANT to hear both sides. In the end of the day, however both people should COMMIT to the decision, even if they still disagree. As long as both parties feel heard and seen, they can often happily commit to a decision that they don’t agree with — and they might be right or they might be wrong in the end, but that’s another fine thing to work out in time and establish trust in one another’s decision-making skills.

So, to sum up: having a hearty argument over a parenting decision is OKAY and it’s not even bad for your kids to be in on it. Listen to one another, try to put yourself in their shoes and see if there’s any movement to a middle place or from one side to the other. It’s even GREAT to say to your partner, “I really appreciate your perspective on this and how different it is.” Appreciating one another in an argument is possible and super healthy.

Then get to a decision, let it be fast and both commit to it. If you can do that, I guarantee you and your children will flourish.

Best, M

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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