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The Parent Wars: when you don’t agree on how to parent

Categories: Wanna Fight About It?


This may not come as a surprise, but apparently my kid’s dad is a Neanderthal. Ba dum bum. Questionable personal habits aside, I’m talking about parenting style. His approach to our kids closely resembles a good deal of what Psychology Today calls “Playful Parenting,” the style used by hunter-gatherer societies. He has few rules for them, doesn’t tell them it’s time to go to bed, lets them do pretty much whatever they want whenever they want.

This drove me crazy.

I had my own ideas of parenting that involved nurturing, nutrition, protection from unsuitable things, and constant attention. Helicopter parent? *Cough* That may have been me (I prefer to say “Attachment Parent,” but whatever). I spent 24 hours a day with them; he spent, well, less. Way less.

We fought about this constantly. He wasn’t doing enough. He was too lackadaisical, didn’t pay attention. The kids could get hurt.

He didn’t do things My Way. The Right Way.

Sound familiar?

Is it a Mom vs Dad thing? Are all men Neanderthals (’scuse me .. ‘playful parents’)? I hate to paint with a broad brush, but that seems to be the trend whereas moms are encouraged to be downright helicopterish. We protect them from evils that could befall them while walking to school, for example. We are afraid to trust their innate abilities to care for themselves and to make sound decisions when they’re small. We feel responsible for their well-being. It’s difficult to see our role any other way: our kids are small, and they … need us, right?

So what do you do when Mom and Dad have totally different parenting styles?

(My solution (divorce) is extreme. Not recommended. Plus it didn’t solve this problem.)

1. Meet in the middle. Helicopter parent becomes more cavemannish and loosens up a little. Neanderthal becomes more responsible. Win-win. But it can be hard to do.

2. Agree to disagree. But I’m still right (No, I am!). So the other parent has shortcomings, in your opinion. You see them, you even joke about them. (And you’re still right!)

3. Fuhgeddaboutit. Kids can benefit from being around multiple parenting styles. Those parenting magazines that tell you that you should both stay on the same side of the fence and create a unified Parenting Wall of Authority can go jump in the lake. Kids can be okay with inconsistency. It’s a skill we admire later: flexibility.

What about you? Is your parenting style different from your partner’s? How do you make this work (or not!) in your family?

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5 comments so far...

  • My husband is actually the helicopter parent in our household! I’m not quite on the free-range/neanderthal side of the spectrum, but I definitely am more likely to, shall we say, let my son learn by trial and error, than my husband is.

    When our parenting styles differ, we are trying hard to just let the differences pass. Maybe its because neither of us is convinced that our way is the right way (hey, we’re kind of new at this, ya know) so it’s hard to fall on our swords over a style that’s being developed on the fly!

    Brenda  |  August 12th, 2009 at 2:33 pm

  • We are a combination Meet in the Middle and Fuhgeddaboudit family. The latter is probably because we met in the middle.

    While M is a playful parent, he does believe in routine and structure because he’s seen how much it benefits her. And while I am more of a disciplinarian and less inclined to let her “get away” with stuff, I do a lot of the silly games, songs and chasing her around because her laughter is the best thing to hear at the end of a long day.

    I don’t micro-manage his parenting. He’s her primary caregiver and has done a bang up job without my constant intervention. He will call if he’s unsure of something, but it’s not often. And I just don’t ask about other things because really, she’s happy and healthy and ahead of her learning curve as it is, so why should I care?

    Phe  |  August 14th, 2009 at 6:07 am

  • Sounds like your married the wrong guy and never discussed parenting ideology before, during and after pregnancy. Pity but all I can say is that not all guys are like your ex. Then again, sounds like you could have chilled a bit in your parenting demands as well.

    Glenn  |  August 14th, 2009 at 6:32 pm

  • There are actually two styles of dad parenting that I have seen. The one that you mentioned (the playful parent) and the way overly strict dad. The first type of dad becomes that type of dad because they want to avoid being the latter and don’t know how else to do it. It’s really hard to find a dad that’s somewhere in between. But I have to say, I would take the playful dad over the scary-way-too-strict-always-yelling dad any day.

    Oceans Mom  |  August 18th, 2009 at 10:14 am

  • Oceans Mom, if those are the only two types of fathers that you have seen, you really do need to get out more. I assure you, there are many many many dads out there that are extremely good fathers.

    Glenn  |  August 19th, 2009 at 12:12 pm