One of the most common questions I receive every week in my inbox is:
What do I do when my partner and I don’t see eye to eye on gentle parenting?
So, I wanted to tackle that tough question this week in hopes of giving you some guidance and support around this tricky topic.
First, though: I want to acknowledge you for committing to a parenting approach that is often the road less traveled – not just with your partner, but with society in general. It takes far more courage and strength to be gentle than people realize, and if someone hasn’t given you a virtual high five & hug for that recently let me be the first. Your work matters, friend. Don’t forget to give yourself a big ‘ole hug for that.
Unfortunately, though…maybe your partner does not believe you’re on the right path. Maybe they think you’re on the “permissive path” or the path that leads to “spoiled brats.” (I see/hear this phrase all.the.time from people who think gentle parenting results in spoiled, entitled children). So what to do when your partner thinks you’re gonna raise kids who don’t think their actions have consequences and grow up thinking they are the center of the universe? (again, these are comments I see weekly from parents pushing back on gentle parenting)
I want to unpack three strategies to help you navigate the friction that arises when you and your partner approach parenting from two very different lenses:
#1 – Lead with data
Whenever possible, try leading less with your opinion (it just becomes too personal with this approach) and try leading more with the facts about why you’ve chosen the gentle parenting route. That’s not to say your instincts and intuition about gentle parenting aren’t legitimate – they absolutely are. But when discussing this with a partner, it’s best to stick to the science.
Remember: we are likely to feel defensive about our parenting choices if we aren’t sure why we’re even making the choices we are. In contrast, when we’re making decisions for our children that are aligned to facts, we are able to have a more civil and confident conversation. **NOTE: Only bring up studies and articles if your partner is open to hearing about them or reading them. Otherwise, they’re going to feel like you’re proselytizing.
#2 – Get curious
Just like we try to cultivate curiosity about our child’s behavior, it’s just as important to get curious about our spouse’s behavior and philosophies about parenting. Odds are, they have your children’s best interest at heart and at the end of the day you both likely want to raise kind, confident, capable children.
Don’t be afraid to ask your partner why they feel uncertain about or altogether against a gentle parenting approach. We all have childhood baggage and perhaps this could be an opportunity to better understand how your partner was raised and dispel any myths or misunderstandings that may be preventing you both from parenting from the same playbook.
#3 – Be willing to be “wrong”
Often, gentle parenting gets a bad rap because people feel it’s too “permissive.” And, there may be times when – in an attempt to remain gentle and non-violent, we are, in fact, “too permissive.” I know I’ve definitely been guilty of that.
Your partner may be zeroing in on this, even if you’re not realizing it. Remember that it’s okay and necessary to acknowledge that maybe you do (subconsciously) do this and that you are willing to take on a more stern tone when your child has done something inappropriate, and that you will commit to setting firmer limits and following through in the future. This allows for compromise in the discussion and will allow your partner to feel as though he/she has an equal say in your parenting relationship.
It’s important to hear your partner’s concerns about how you are handling certain situations, as it makes them feel heard, allowing them to be a part of the solution instead of being the “problem.”
It’s also possible that part of the parenting friction between you and your partner is the result of them feeling like they are being undermined in the parenting relationship. When these moments arise, remind your partner why you don’t want to yell/hit/use time out. It’s best to simply explain why YOU are not going to use these tactics. To prevent your partner from feeling attacked, try to use a lot of “I” statements in explaining your approach. (e.g., “I try not to yell because it upsets me even more, and it seems to make the situation worse).
Lastly, I’ll close with this: even if you and your partner aren’t 100% on the same page with the gentle parenting approach, know that what you are doing to parent your child in a respectful and gentle way is absolutely 100% making a difference. So, don’t give up and I encourage you to stay the course. I sincerely hope that some of these suggestions have been helpful and that having these deep – but tough – conversations with your partner brings your family even closer.