This week is National Vanilla Ice Cream day. I’ve mentioned it before, but I love all things dessert. In fact, in my previous life, before I went back to school to further my career, I ran a bakery. It’s not only where I began my life as a professional but it’s also where I developed my love for the phrase, “That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla”.

Put simply, this phrase means not everyone likes the same thing. Not everyone has the same taste and not everyone does things exactly the same. I’m spinning off today’s national holiday and focusing on the phrase “that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla” and its relation to parenting. We don’t all parent the same…so what happens when you and your partner have different parenting styles?

What is a Parenting Style?

You may never have thought of this concept before, but we each have a unique parenting style that we use when dealing with our children. These styles ultimately affect everything from how your child behaves to how you feel about your child to how they feel about themselves.

Ideally, you want to have a parenting style that support healthy growth and development. You want to be there for your child to love and encourage them, placing them on a path that will make them successful in their future endeavors. But you also need to provide structure and discipline. So how do you decide what to do?

There are 2 main components to parenting: control and warmth/affection. Basically, parenting styles are determined by the degree to which you engage in each component. Parenting has been studied over the years and researchers have determined that there are 4 categories of parenting:

4 Parenting Styles
  • Authoritarian: Parents are strict and exert high levels of control over their children. They typically use punishment instead of discipline, spending little if no time teaching a child how to make better choices. They show little warmth.
  • Authoritative: Parents have rules and use consequences however they also take their child’s opinions into account. They validate their child’s feelings but make it clear that the adult is ultimately in charge. They display affection for their child and establish clear boundaries of what is and is not acceptable.
  • Permissive: Parents show love and warmth but have limited boundary setting. They are typically lenient and only step in when a severe issue has occurred. They tend to give in to tantrums and usually take on more of a friend role than a parent role.
  • Uninvolved: Parents have little knowledge of what their child is doing. There are typically no rules or boundaries and little to no interest in the child. Children are pretty much expected to raise themselves.
Understanding your Own Parenting Style

I have always had my opinions – both personally and professionally – about how to respond to my children when they are acting out and how to encourage them to be their best self. As a professional working in child development, I know why some behaviors happen and how I should handle the situation. As a parent and human sometimes I’ve just had it…I’m at my wit’s end and I cannot deal with P and her 4-year-old behavior.

Have you thought about your own parenting style? Based on the descriptions above, do you feel that you fall into one category more than another? If you don’t know, start by thinking about the positive side of parenting. How do you respond to your child when positive things happen? Now look at the other end of the spectrum…how do you typically respond when they act out?

Conflicting Parenting Styles

Knowing your own parenting style can be very helpful when discussing parenting expectations with your partner. Parenting is hard enough on one parent. What happens when your style of parenting is different from your partners? What if you are authoritarian and they are permissive? What if you see no positive impact in disciplining your child when your partner wants to punish them?

Differences in parenting styles can have a tremendous impact on relationships. Even if you share the same parenting style, you are likely to at some point disagree about how to handle a particular situation. So, what do you do?

Support is Key

I believe first and foremost, try your best to present a united front. There is no better opportunity for a child to act out or manipulate a situation than when parents are disagreeing or arguing. Remember, our kids feed off of us. If we are anxious, they sense that. If we are sad or upset, they feel that too. They may not be old enough to say it, but they sure will show you through their actions and behaviors.

Whether you agree or not, supporting each other is key. You don’t always have to have the same opinion as your partner to back them. If your partner disciplines your child and you don’t necessarily agree with it, you need to throw that oppositional thought away for the time being and support your partner. Again, you need to be a united front. If you disagree with your partner’s decision in the moment, in front of your kids, you’ve just completely thrown them under the bus.

Talking it Out

Sometimes you may think that you two are on the same page, but a situation will arise and suddenly you find yourself disagreeing with what your partner has just said. You can absolutely disagree with your partner…in private. Away from your kids. And you should express your feelings because you don’t want to set up resentment and anger and leave it unaddressed.

When the kids are out of earshot, discuss the situation with your partner. Find out why they did what they did. And if you still disagree, discuss that with them. Have a productive conversation about your parenting styles. Establish some basic ground rules for moving forward and support each other in adhering to these rules.

Chocolate and Vanilla

The more you and your partner communicate with each other, the more likely you will be able to present a united front to your children. You may never agree but that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla.

In the end try to remember that you will only be stronger as a team if you understand each other. After all, if you can’t choose between chocolate and vanilla, there’s always the Neapolitan option.  😊