When Parents Don’t Agree

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

A common source of discouragement among parents is that they see what their child needs, they want to make changes, but the other parent doesn’t agree or isn’t willing to cooperate. These parents can then feel helpless and discouraged. Although it is encouraging when both parents are working together with the kids, don’t minimize the power you have.

Try to Find Common Ground

Of course, when at all possible, you want to look for ways to get on the same page with your spouse. Reading books, listening to podcasts or MP3s, or attending a parenting class together can provide opportunities to dialogue about values and develop plans for your child.

Although raising children can be a great source of discouragement for couples because of differing approaches, the opposite is also true. When parents work together and develop a plan to help a child grow up, their relationship as a couple can become stronger. Partnership builds unity and parenting can provide that opportunity.

Unfortunately, though, some parents find such unity elusive. Disagreements seem more frequent than agreement. The problem is that either values are dramatically different or there’s unwillingness on the part of one of the parents to grow in their parenting.

Single parents often find this to be frustrating because the conflict between the adults in a child’s life spills over to the child-rearing process. Some parents are reluctant to work things out in the parenting approach because of other conflict in their adult relationship.

When custody is shared there’s often struggle with a lack of unity among parents when it comes to parenting. One dad said, “When the kids are with me, they have a bedtime, I require that they clean their rooms, and we don’t eat junk food. When they’re with their mother, she lets them watch R-rated movies, they stay up late, and they eat whatever they want.”

This dad is reasonably frustrated with the divergence in messages the children receive. He knows, however, that he needs to emphasize convictions and values, not just rules with his kids. After months of dialogue his daughter came home one day and said, “Dad, I did what you said and walked out of the room and told mom I didn’t want to watch that movie they were watching.” Dad beamed, realizing that his daughter was learning some important lessons about life.

Don’t Underestimate the Power You Have

Even when two parents are living together and family life is relatively positive, parents still tend to have different approaches when it comes to relating to the children. If you find you disagree with the other parent or authority in your child’s life, don’t lose hope. Work hard to do the right thing and hang in there. Your children need you, and your persistence will pay off in the end. It’s amazing how much power one parent has. Although your efforts may be thwarted sometimes, keep working hard at your parenting and your kids will be better for it.

Children watch how you live. They’ll eventually have to make decisions about how they’re going to live their lives. The key is to talk about the reasons behind your rules and why you hold the convictions you do. Children eventually see those reasons and are often persuaded by them.

The Bible has examples of the emphasis on one parent in a child’s life. Timothy is a great example. We know he had a father but his mother and grandmother seem to have had the primary influence in his life (2 Timothy 1:5)

Kathy put it this way, “I used to give up because my husband wouldn’t support me. But I was seeing too many negative things happening so I decided to be more firm even without his support. I wish things were different in this area but I know that my kids need a mom who is going to be firm in order for them to make it in life. I’ve found renewed strength in knowing that what I’m doing is right and although my husband isn’t supportive, I take heart knowing that I’m pleasing God.”

Differences Aren’t All Bad

Sometimes it’s not a matter of one parent doing right and the other doing wrong. Rather, they just have different parenting styles and either could be used to raise a child. For example, one parent is more relational and may let some things slide for the sake of closeness. Another parent values toeing the line to teach kids the right way to live.

Either of these approaches could work well, but trying to work them both at the same time can be frustrating for both parents. It’s best, in those cases, to have regular parenting huddles. Sometimes you may do it one way, and other times you’ll take a different approach. If parents are interested in cooperating then the first decision is how to respond to the situation in question. The second decision is who should communicate the conclusion to the child.

Honor Each Other

Avoid having one parent be the bad guy all the time. If Mom is usually the strict one, then have Dad report the firm consequence sometimes. On the other hand, if the conclusion is to take a less strict approach, maybe Mom should communicate it. Working together like this can provide a sense of unity between parents.

Children benefit from different approaches and parents can learn to appreciate the other parent’s way of relating, recognizing that both ways of relating have merit, they just focus on different values at the time. Sometimes Mom needs to let Dad do it his way and sometimes the other is true. Kids learn and grow from both approaches and as parents can model humility and grace.

Honor changes the way children operate. This book shows you how to teach it.

When parenting gets tough remember Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

So do what you can to compromise for the sake of unity with your spouse or other parent, but when that isn’t possible, do the hard work of parenting. Your kids will be better for it.

Helping children navigate the challenges of parenting differences is important. That’s one of the reasons we wrote the book, “Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids.” Don’t let the title of the book fool you. This is a book about honor in the family. That honor addresses times we don’t agree or don’t even respect another family member. You’ll find helpful thoughts in this book for you and your kids.


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