Navigating Significant Parenting Differences

A significant difference in parenting styles is one of the most difficult aspects of blending a family. Each adult arrives in the partnership with their background, their experiences, and all the beliefs they have associated with being a parent. Chances are that the longer one parent has been going solo with parenting, the tougher the transition to having another person, with their own style, joining the mix.

WARNING: Trying to change how the OTHER person parents is HOPELESS! So many conflicts arise when, say, the wife wants/needs the other to change how the husband parents to her way of thinking. It is essential for the wife to first understand and value his perspective and why he parents as he does. The key to change is accepting and working with why he parents as he does. This is much more effective than telling him how he is wrong.

When I moved in with my husband and his two teenage daughters, he had a real “hands off” approach. The girls were expected to contribute to household chores and to keep the home livable, and other than that, they basically had free reign.

Enter the perspective of a new stepmom who believes in boundaries and limits. Sparks began to fly as soon as I asserted what I needed to be different. The shoes in the entry hall were a big problem for a long time. So was the lack of rules around driving. For example, when I noticed that my car had been “borrowed” (the odometer was different) without my knowledge or permission, I had to show up as a parent the way I needed to parent – setting limits, confronting the greater issues of lying and sneaking, and asserting the natural consequences for unacceptable behavior. This method was foreign to their family, and there were reactions all the way around! Thankfully, my husband supported me in front of his daughter, and then we discussed our differences privately and came to a mutual understanding about how to handle parenting together from then on.

What my husband and I discovered, and what I advocate for couples attempting to parent together, is to communicate with each other, to follow through with agreements, and to establish parenting ground rules that work for both of you as soon as possible.

When you encounter a “dead lock” and find yourselves stuck with strong opinions that are in direct opposition, chances are that there are some underlying beliefs in the way of collaboration. Exploring your beliefs about parenting, and more importantly, where you learned those beliefs, can be very helpful.

Once you have an understanding about the beliefs, you can then begin to unravel your beliefs and determine if they are truly in support of your success as parents.

Action Steps:
First, make a decision to meet each other on a “field of no right and wrong”. Create a safe place to explore beliefs and values, and let go of needing to convince each other of your points of view.

Second, explore your value systems together from a place of curiosity. Ask each other questions and listen to the responses with receptivity. Questions like: What does it mean to you to be a parent? What are your hopes and dreams for your child/ren? What brings you the most satisfaction about being a parent? What is the biggest challenge for you in parenting? What were your hopes and desires around parenting when we decided to blend our families and become a partnership?

Third, discover with each other how you learned about parenting. Ask from that same place of curiosity and wanting to learn and understand. Questions like: Who were your “parents” in the sense of who raised you? What were their particular “styles”? What did you like the most about how you were parented? What do you wish had been different? Who do you think is an excellent parent? What qualities to do you see in them? What are the beliefs you have about mothers versus fathers and their roles as parents? What do you think makes a parent successful?

Fourth, inquire about how each of you defines your parenting style – This can be quite revealing. Take some time to write down:
1. How you would define your partner’s parenting style.
2. How you would define your own parenting style.
(by “style”, I mean – describe how each of you performs the role of being a parent – yelling, strong disciplinarian, easy going, hands off, hovering helicopter, drill sergeant, consultant, unpredictable, lecturing, etc).
Share your impressions with each other, starting with how you see each other (remember, no getting defensive!). Then share how you see yourselves.

Finally, take some time to honestly share about what works for you, and what would you change in terms of your own parenting style. And then look at ways that you can support each other in making the changes you both would like to see being made together.

The more united you can be as a couple, the better for everyone in the household!

For more information about the author, Emily Bouchard, or to receive weekly articles and action steps, visit:

Author's Bio: 

Brief Bio for Emily Bouchard

Emily Bouchard is the president and founder of StepHeroesTM, a community of stepfamilies who strive to be everyday heroes in their homes. She is also the creator of HeartPathTM Coaching where she works with individuals, couples, and families who want to be free from the patterns and beliefs that keep them from thriving in their lives.

Emily has over eighteen years of experience in working with children, teens, couples and families. She has supported clients in navigating significant challenges including: foster care, adoption, emotional disturbance, and physical illness. She earned a B.A. with honors in an individualized major on Child Development from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Emily is a loving stepmother and mentor to two young women who were fifteen and seventeen years old at the time she entered their lives. Emily has intimate knowledge of the special challenges of parenting in a blended family. She has a desire to share her wisdom with other parents who want the very best for their families.