My wife and I have very different views on child-rearing. I’m more of the “throw them in the pool and they’ll learn to swim” mindset, and she won’t even let them go in the shallow end. It’s creating a lot of tension between us, and I think it’s confusing our little one. I don’t want to end up raising overprotected, fearful kids, and even more so, I don’t want our different philosophies to ruin our marriage. What’s the right thing to do?

Parenting, like putting together IKEA furniture, is something you can read about, watch Youtube videos on, and have explained to you in detail; but until you’re actually sitting there with what seems like an alarming surplus of screws and hinges and lack of tools, trying to correctly interpret the cryptic pictorial directions, cursing, injuring yourself, feeling frustrated and defeated, and quitting numerous times in the process, do you realize that it’s something you figure out as you go and privately hope you won’t quit or destroy your product in the process. What’s more, marital satisfaction tends to decline considerably following the birth of a couple’s first child — a statistic that is likely partially influenced by conflict around parenting, but also around the financial demands, new responsibilities, and other factors that put stress and restrictions on the couple. A couple under more stress is more likely to experience more conflict.

As you can probably imagine, there is a lot of research out there on parenting. Study after study has revealed that an authoritative parenting style — one that is characterized by high expectations and high support – coupled with inductive reasoning (when parents explain rationale for discipline and choices), produce prosocial behaviour and positive emotional health in children. An example would be, “I expect you to meet my standards, but I still love you regardless of whether or not you do.”

The strengths in this parenting style remain consistent across cultures, although there are some exceptions to the rule (there are always exceptions!). For example, if children are being raised in dangerous neighborhoods, an authoritarian parenting style is necessary for children’s safety. Interestingly, though, studies show that what’s more important than the parenting style is the “coparenting alliance” (the degree to which parents cooperate, show warmth towards each other, low competition and low “verbal sparring”). It’s common for couples to develop a “good cop/bad cop” dynamic in their parenting styles, and that’s just fine. You don’t have to be the exact same. Generally, one will be more strict and one more laissez-faire. Consistency is most important for things like mealtimes, curfews, bedtime, sharing, non-violence, manners, and respect, for example, so not to confuse the child or create tension in the relationship. Discuss with your partner what values are important that you instill in your children, while acknowledging that flexibility, re-evaluation, and discussion will inevitably be necessary.

Additionally, it can be beneficial for both of you to take some time to understand and have empathy for each other’s parenting style. Perhaps you learned it from your parents, or believe it is the “right” way. Biologically and socially, women tend to be more nurturing (in general – there are many situations in which the father is the more nurturing half of the parental unit), while men tend to value and instill autonomy and independence. Acknowledge the common goal that you share of raising healthy, happy children. Consider taking a parenting course together, which most communities offer, so neither of you is viewed as the “expert.”

Finally, make sure that you’re taking time together as a couple. Some parents believe that, once children are born, everything should be done as a family. However, experts stress the importance of continuing to nurture the couple unit in addition to the family unit. Utilizing “Romantic Reminders” is a great way to do this, ensuring you have at least one occasion every couple of weeks that requires a babysitter.

Megan Bruneau, M.A. RCC

Although many individuals share similar concerns relating to their relationship advice, no two persons or couples are the same. Romantic Reminders’ Registered Clinical Counsellor, Megan Bruneau, provides professional advice that some might find helpful influencing how they consider approaching their concern; however, her advice is by no means a substitute for couple’s therapy or one-on-one professional help. Megan advises all of her clients to seek relationship support in the form of a trained professional if their situation grants them the opportunity to do so. Additionally, if physical or emotional abuse, addictions, or mental illness are present in your relationship, this advice likely will not be suitable or sufficient for you. Instead, individual and couple therapy are strongly recommended.

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