* When is it important for parents with different parenting styles to be in agreement: for big things like safety, discipline, religion, etc.? Why or why not?

In general, most parents agree on issues.  It’s their different styles of delivery the message that causes problems.  Very often one parent is harshly angry while the other is soft and loosy-goosey.  Conflict and chaos brews and the children’s anxiety rises.  This is a perfect cocktail for future acting-out behaviors in the children.  When I treat parents with polarized styles of implementing discipline, unless they change and get on the same page, I see their children emerge with out-of-control behaviors, emotional problems, and delinquency.  These are kids who need a therapeutic boarding school in order to get the proper balance of nurturing and boundaries.

* Is it okay for parents to disagree on small matters?  

Yes, of course it is natural for parents to disagree on small matters like whether showers are taken before or after dinner or whether the child is given $5. versus $7. for lunch money.  Optimally, it’s best if parents can come together and deliver one message.  But, it is very important that parents do not criticize or blame the other parent.  Kids need to know parents support each other, love each other, and are a united team.

* How do parents with opposing views agree on big issues? Are there strategies that you recommend?

Each parent must respect the other.  Even though you may disagree on views, opinions, and issues you must have basic respect for your spouse’s love of the child(ren) and integrity.  Without this, there is a crack in the foundation of the marital relationship and the risk of collapse of the family unit.  Have open, honest dialogue with your partner to see where and on which points you can join together.  Do not hesitate to consult a marriage counselor or therapist to deal with these very important issues.

* What about divorced parents who have different parenting styles? How can they reach a consensus about important topics, or should they agree to disagree?

Sadly, most divorces are contentious.  More often than not, divorced parents do things in very different ways. In the best of situations, it is wonderful for the kids when their divorced  parents have two similarly functioning households.  Usually that is not the case which is often the reason why divorce occurred in the first place.  Sadly, this is one of the realities children must face and deal with.  It is best for the parents to agree to disagree and to explain it to the children honestly by saying something like,  “At Mommy’s house bedtime is earlier than at Daddy’s” or “Yes, I know Daddy lets you eat candy at lunchtime but Mommy doesn’t do that.”  The key is to not allow your child to pin you against the other in order to get what they want – you to change your rules. It is a reality that most divorces leave two different sets of rules in two different houses.  Of course, it’s always best to have one united set of rules, expectations, and discipline strategies.

* How should parents discuss their differing styles with their children, if approached?

Most younger age children do not confront the differing styles in their parents – they react to them.  The wider the gap between parents the more serious the emotional and behavioral problems in the kids.  Some teens will point to their parents’ differing parenting styles.  If approached, always be honest and accountable with your children.  Own up to your end.  The kids know the truth anyway!  They live with you.  Be a good role-model for being truthful and taking responsibility for your own behavior.

* What if the children always approach one parent for help or permission because he/she is the friendlier or more lenient parent? In this way, differences in parenting styles may affect the way that children relate to parents.

Believe me, the children will approach the softer, more lenient parent to get permission.  This is likely one of the issues that broke the marriage apart.  If you and your ex are amicable you can discuss and try to get on the same page in the best interest of your children.  When this is not possible, do your best to remain clear, consistent, and follow-through so your children feel secure, safe, and trusting with you.  Don’t try to compete to win a popularity contest between you and your ex.  The kids need at least one dependable, mature, and responsible parent they can count on to hold the line.

* Can different parenting styles negatively affect children, or do they help children learn about varied opinions and different ways to view the same situation?

Definitely, different parenting styles are more harmful than helpful to children.  The closer parents are united in discipline, morals, character, and behavioral expectations, the better for raising happy, healthy, resilient, wholesome kids and young adults.