Managing parenting conflict
For many people, dating can be quite a magical time. It is a time where the warm glow of a new relationship feels intoxicating. You look for the commonalities between you as a couple, “oh, isn’t it wonderful, we both love the beach!”, or perhaps romanticise that you are the “yin” to your partner’s “yang”. Life might feel pretty good for the most part and wee bumps along the road are just that - small bumps on a relatively smooth path.
For many couples, parenthood might be the first real challenge they face together. In particular, it might be the first time a couple encounter some real differences and competing viewpoints; viewpoints that may stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. And, suddenly, it doesn’t feel so “cute” that you really are opposites.
When it comes to parenting, there are so many different areas that could become fraught with conflict. For example, do you opt for a midwife or obstetrician? Do you desire a “natural birth” or a “pain-free” birth? When the baby arrives are you “baby-led” or do you dive right into a routine? Do you want to breastfeed or bottle feed? How do you want to soothe your baby? Do you want to sleep train using “cry it out” or are you happy to let the baby sleep on you? Do you want to vaccinate your baby? How much grandparent involvement do you want? When do you want to start solids, and what solids do you want to give your baby? You get the drift….
Of course, this kind of parental decision-making doesn’t just exist in the vacuum of newborns either. We continue to make decisions for as long as we remain parents and it doesn’t become any less challenging!
So how do you manage conflict when it comes to parenting decision-making? If you are pro-vaccine, how do you manage if your partner is not? If you are wanting a routine, and your partner is more “go with the flow”, how do you resolve this?
The truth is that it can be really hard.
Imagine for a moment two people pulling on a rope. On one side is person A who believes wholeheartedly that they should be following their baby’s lead when it comes to feeding and sleep. On the other end of the rope, is person B, who believes their baby, and family, will thrive with a more predictable feeding and sleep routine.
Now imagine each person is pulling on the rope as hard as they possibly can, pulling back and forth for quite a while yelling out their argument to one another. And, as they do so, entrenching themselves further in that belief. They aren’t getting any closer to changing the other person’s belief. Instead, they are just getting exhausted from all the pulling and yelling! Imagine, then, if both person A and B let go of the rope. If they dropped the struggle and battle with one another and just let go, imagine the relief they would feel.
This example should highlight two things: first, that when you are at complete odds with someone else, it is best not to keep fighting. It very rarely gets you anywhere (other than exhausted). Second, relief can come from ‘letting go’ of the battle. When we can let go of the conflict, this is when meaningful conversations can begin.
Once you ‘let go’ of the battle, here are some good tips to having a meaningful conversation and try to manage the conflict with your partner:
- 1. Name the conflict: Calmly and openly, state where the conflict sits. For example – “I can see we have really different viewpoints on how to settle our baby”.
- 2. Explain that you’d like to talk it through: For example - “I’d really like to chat to you about this in-depth and come to a good outcome”
- 3. Pick a good time to discuss the conflict: This means not discussing it late at night, in the middle of ‘happy hour’ (a.k.a. witching hour), during breastfeeding, while others are in the room, when you’re rushing out the door etc. You want a time where you are both in a calm mood, with little distraction and when you have the time and space to discuss things with little risk of being interrupted.
- 4. Clearly state how you feel: Explain why you feel that way and why it is important to you. This gives your partner a chance to try to understand where you are coming from.
- 5. Let your partner talk: When it is your partner’s turn to talk, give him/her the respect and time to discuss their viewpoint. Hear them out. Do not interrupt or judge how they are feeling.
- 6. Try to find some common-ground: Once you have both had a chance to have your say, see if there is a way you can come to a balanced middle-ground. Often when you strip away the emotion from the discussion, coming to a middle ground can be a lot easier. Is it possible that you can both get your way? Maybe you might need to trial different options for your baby to see what is right for him or her?
- 7. Try a mediator: If you really cannot agree, is there someone who could help mediate? For example, if you really disagree about vaccination, could you both sit down with a trusted medical professional (or someone else) and get them to help you make a decision?
- 8. Be prepared to “give and take”: Perhaps you and your partner could agree that on one issue, say starting solids, you might try it “your way”, but when it comes to settling your baby, you try it your partner’s way? The benefit of this approach is that across different parenting decisions you are both feeling heard. The trick here is to make sure that when you are trying to do things your partner’s way, you are “all in” and don’t fight against it the whole time.
When it comes to parenting, the most important thing to remember is that there is no one “right” way of doing things. It does take trial and error. And, of course, each baby is different too. Although disagreements are inevitable, if you and your partner can work together – rather than against one another – chances are you are going to be a lot closer to doing what works best for you, and ultimately for your little one too.