Parenting is hard. It is fun and rewarding, but it is also a lot of work. Even in the most harmonious relationships, parents are bound to bump heads every once in a while. My husband and I, while extremely argumentative over mundane stuff just for the sport of it, rarely truly disagreed on anything. Until our daughter came along.
When she was an infant, my husband and I dealt with the blows pretty well. Sleep deprivation, the endless crying fits, no problem. However, as she became old enough to require real parenting–that is parenting beyond feeding and diapering–we started to see different parenting styles emerge. Emerge and clash. You see, my husband is a Marlin and I’m a Crush.
If you’re the odd ball who hasn’t seen Finding Nemo or it’s been too long to remember very well, let me walk you through the characters at play here. Marlin, presumably due to the trauma of losing his fish partner and hundreds of his babies, is an overprotective helicopter parent to his only child, Nemo. Later in the story, Marlin meets Crush, a turtle portraying the typical surfer dude. Crush is as laid-back about parenting as Marlin isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband probably looks very laid-back compared to some parents, and I can probably look conservative next to others. But we were unexpectedly and surprisingly different nonetheless.
My husband wants the best for our daughter. He wants her to be safe so he is always very close behind her to catch her if she falls. He wants her to be smart so he talks to her constantly and asks her a lot of questions to promote language development. Me? I want the best for my daughter too. I want her to be independent and self-motivated, so I leave her alone. I want her to be able to assess risk, so I leave her alone. I want her to tolerate not being the center of attention for three minutes, so I leave her alone.
Not only are our parenting styles different, but they can also be very difficult to intertwine. Every time I take a step back, he jumps in. Every time I want to jump in, there’s quite literally no physical room for me to do so. This led to a difficult period when he was reproachful towards me for not keeping up my half of the parenting duties (as I seemingly was not doing anything at all) while I was feeling bitter to continuously be shoved aside like a third wheel.
Not wanting to criticize each other’s parenting skills, we brewed quietly for many months. Finally, it was talking it out that brought us on the same page. With a clearer understanding of each other’s philosophies we were able to accepted each other as we were. Ultimately, we both have our daughter’s best interest at heart. The key to our relationship as parents was to open a line of communication in which I can openly say like Crush, “Whoa, kill the motor, dude. Let us see what Squirt does flying solo,” when I think he’s stepping in too much. Reciprocally, he can feel free to say like Marlin, “What are you, insane? Why don’t we fry them up now and serve them with chips?” when he thinks I’m being too hands off. It’s that line of communication that brought us even-keeled as a parental unit.
For those still struggling to become a well-oiled parenting machine—and let’s face it it’s an ongoing challenge—I would suggest this from my experience:
Accept who you both are. The sooner you can accept that you can’t change yourself or your partner, the better. You can certainly improve yourself and learn from each other, but following your parental instincts, however different they might be, is a beautiful thing. Be true to yourself and let your partner do the same. In the end, it will be better for your child to see that a healthy relationship doesn’t mean denying one’s self.
Embrace your differences. Wouldn’t it be convenient if you and your partner always agreed on everything? Yes, that would be so much easier. However, don’t go around thinking your methods are better than your partner’s. My husband is still a little too Marlin for my taste and I’m certainly still a little too Crush for his, but we respect our conflicting opinions. While it’s a careful balancing act that we’ll never fully be done adjusting, we think our daughter will thrive with the array of love and care that we provide.
Communicate. Above all, you and your partner need to voice your differences (when the kids are not present!) and send off clear friendly warnings when one of you oversteps an emotional bound. I can’t stress enough how important this is. You can go around assuming you understand the motive of your partner’s methods, but you know what happens when you assume things: you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”