When it comes to making parenting decisions how do you allow for influence from your partner?

Is there agreement between you both about how parenting decisions are made or is there a power struggle between mum and dad? Or are you having recurring arguments about seemingly small things with your partner?  what the baby needs when she’s crying, toddler bedtime, or how to respond during a tantrum?

Often the cause of these arguments is an underlying disparity been partners influence over parenting decisions.

If you’re struggling to come together to raise your family the way you both want, you’re not alone. It is one of the fundamental challenges of parenting and is where many relationships fall apart.

Most parents want to have an influence over how their child is raised and family priorities. Sharing parenting influence with your partner can be challenging but it is critical to a successful relationship. It shows your partner that you value them and their opinion matters to you, which builds stability for your family and enhances the relationship with your partner.

Influence isn’t about controlling your partner or making them see things your way. Its more about taking your partner in, in a way that lets them know you consider you both a team. That you’re both willing to take into account each others perspectives, considerations and thoughts. By accepting their influence and working together, your relationship will be stronger, your connection deeper and you can rely on each other for support during the challenges of parenthood.

When it comes to making parenting decisions many issues arise when either parent values being right (or winning), more than they strive for harmony. Relationship Professor Dr John Gottman says that when you can’t accept influence, you’re communicating that your commitment to “winning” is stronger than your commitment to your partner. In parenting there is seldom a right or wrong way, it’s just mum’s point of view and Dad/partners point of view.

How to allow for partner influence in parenting decisions

Identify your Values and Parenting Approach

Parenting is challenging and it helps to understand where you’re trying to get to and how you intend to get there. This clarity comes from parenting in accordance with your values. Your values are like a compass – they help you make choices based on the directions in which you want your life to go. Parenting values are about what sort of parent you want to be and what you want your family life to be about.

Discussing your parenting values with your partner will help you both understand each other and move towards common ground. Click HERE for some great exercises to help you identify your values.

With the knowledge of your values, collaboratively identify the parenting approach you want to take. Click HERE to read about the overarching four parenting styles. By having this clarity, when you’re needing to make parenting decisions, or you are having trouble agreeing on how to handle a situation, you can refer back to your values to guide the way.

Communicate and Collaborate

To share influence when making parenting decisions it is vital that you can communicate effectively together. This involves the ability to express your point of view in a way that allows your partner to hear you AND your partner listening with the aim of understanding and empathising with you.

Talking

Relationship expert John Gottman predicts that the way you start a topic for discussion determines how the conversation will progress 96% of the time. When discussing sensitive parenting topics, we may lead with our strongest feeling (e.g. anger because your partner won’t accept your advice) but this often evokes our partner to react defensively and counterattack.

To overcome this, prior to having a conversation with your partner take the time to personally reflect on what you’re feeling (e.g. you get angry when they won’t accept your advice because it feels like they don’t respect you). Starting the conversation gently by explaining your deeper level emotions, it encourages your partner to really hear your point of view.

Listening

When discussing sensitive topics with your partner it’s easy to fall into defensive mode, hearing what they’re saying through your own biased lens and focussing on a counterattack or retaliation. Aim for understanding your partner, empathising with them and commit to accepting their influence. By identifying and empathizing with your partners point of view, you are more likely to find a solution that honors both partners.

What to Talk About

When a partner is unhappy with how much influence they have over parenting decisions it’s important to focus your communication efforts at the right level. Often a disagreement arises (e.g. Dad regularly puts toddler to bed later than what Mum wants) and parents focus their attention on solving the problem of when their child should go to bed. They communicate back and forth about an appropriate bedtime, each with a different point of view. However, the underlying concern is that one, or both parents, feel that there’s an unequal balance of decision making influence (e.g. you don’t honour my parenting requests).

When this occurs, parents need to shift their focus from problem solving, to understanding each other’s point of view. By safely and respectfully communicating to understand where your partner is coming from and their underlying concerns, you build trust in each other and a solid foundation for your family.

If you only focus on the surface level issue (e.g. bedtime preferences), the underlying issue (e.g. you don’t listen and respect my parenting approach) isn’t being acknowledged and addressed, resulting in you having the same dilemma or conflict repeatedly.

Awareness of Self and your Partner

Making parenting decisions together will be impacted by your interpretation of your partners actions, preferred decision making methods, how you were parented and your approach to conflict.

Filters impact your interpretations

You have developed ‘filters’ in your mind which affect the way that you view yourself, the world and the people in it. Filters help you quickly process a lot of information, but quite often, they block out or misinterpret important information. Misreading your partners signals or what they are trying to communicate can be largely due to the impact of your filter.  To really listen, understand and empathise with your partner you need to put your filter aside and suspend your judgments.

Common filters for influence over parenting decision making could include:

If you don’t listen, then you don’t care.

If you don’t follow my request, then you don’t respect me.

If you don’t include me, then you don’t think I’m worthy.

We all have filters but having an awareness of them allows you to know when they are getting in the way of understanding and working together with your partner to raise your family.

Decision making methods

Making joint parenting decisions with your partner is a fine art, one which if you commit to communicating, understanding and accepting influence you will fine tune over time. To understand yourself and your partner it helps to know how you both make decisions. In general there are two decision making approaches:

  • Logic/ Reason – where you consciously draw on the facts in front of you, and your previous knowledge, and make a decision using that evidence

Ex: Logic based approach to night resettling of baby – Dad reviews and considers the research on baby sleep and sleep training methods. He then decides what method is best based on outcome statistics

  • Intuition/Feel – where your decision has to ‘feel right’. Intuition is actually a combination of your previous experience and your values, and is therefore a valuable tool. It is important to remember, however, that your perceptions may play a big part in your feelings, and they may not be accurate.

Ex: Intuition approach to resettling – Mum reads about the different methods to baby resettling at night. To make her decision she also considers her value of baby attachment and her struggle with letting her baby cry.

It can be challenging when you and your partner make decisions using different approaches but by applying both logic and intuition can allow both of you to feel heard and understand as well lead towards a collaborative decision.

How you were parented

How you were parented has a direct effect on how you choose to raise your family and collaborate with your partner. You may have felt lonely and disconnected from your parents so you value attachment and connection with your child. Or perhaps your father was a harsh disciplinarian, and you don’t want to repeat that.

By having an awareness of your childhood experiences will help you understand and empathise with each other’s behaviour and preferences when raising your family.

Approach to Conflict

Your conflict style influences how you respond when there are disagreements with influence and decision making.

  • Dismissive style – prefer to make decisions alone. Harmless queries about decisions will feel like you are being interrogated and you are more likely to dismiss your partners point of view.
  • Anxious or preoccupied style – your partner might find you insistent, manipulative or dominating to which they respond negatively.
  • Fearful style – difficult to express your point of view or collaborate with your partner. You’re likely to become frightened or shut down and have trouble finding your words when explaining your point of view.
  • Secure style – more likely to reveal yourself appropriately, flexible, constructive and willing to negotiate during discussions and conflict.

By being aware of your natural conflict style, you can stop blaming your partner and start to work on yourself. You’re also able to self-soothe to minimise being triggered and therefore open yourself up to effectively communicating and collaborating with your partner.

 

Working together with your partner to make parenting decisions and both be satisfied with your level of influence is challenging. But, when you are able to commit to accepting your partners influence and be curious about their point of view, your relationship will be stronger, your connection deeper and you can rely on each other for support during the challenges of parenthood.

If you’re regularly experiencing conflict about particular parenting topics it can be helpful to receive the support of a trained therapist to help you both navigate the challenges. They can help guide you both to cut through the ‘noise’ and get to the underlying issue.

If you would like help with this or anything that you have read in this blog please contact me HERE

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