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When Parents Disagree: Our Family’s Different Parenting Styles

“Dad, can you drive me to Lisa’s house?” my daughter sweetly asks. “Have to be there in ten.”

“Sure,” I respond. “Let me get my keys.”

As I open the garage door, I hear thundering, urgent feet resound above my head.

My wife runs down the stairs yelling, “Brian, Where are you going?”

“I’m taking Kate to Lisa’s house,” I respond.

“I told Kate she couldn’t go unless she picked up her clothes from the bathroom floor,” my wife says. “She’s playing you again. ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!’”

And so it begins again. Two parents divided by one child.

Our Conflicting Parenting Styles

Teenagers have you coming and going. Domestic guerillas in skinny jeans and high tops, they work the schisms between parents to gain advantage. And while parents often remain unified in their resolve, having to continuously negotiate with each other and mitigate the damage can fracture a marriage.

I get it. My siblings and I were children of parents who were never on the same page, and we quickly understood that Dad’s “Yes” meant Mom’s “No,” and vice versa. We were off to race our bikes (or the movies) as they argued about the whos, whys, and hows.

Once they divorced, our parents’ differences were even easier for us to exploit.

When our children are babies, daily baths and dreaming of a rosy future keep cooing parents perfectly in sync. But as time moves on and children enter their hormonal teens, diapering and daily naps evaporate into frantic discussions about when they can drive the car and whom they may date.

My wife and I … we see the big picture. We make sure we agree before finalizing any big decisions. Face to face, in texts, on the phone, every day. And most of time, we have peaceful nights on our peaceful lane.

But all it takes is the umpteenth request—drop me off, pick me up, and clean up my sleepover mess—from our it’s-all-about-me 14-year old, and suddenly things begin to fracture.

Suddenly, it’s…

Didn’t you know your daughter just went to the mall yesterday?

Why did you get hoodwinked into driving four of her friends all over?

Why do you need to always be so likeable?

Parenting Disagreements Happen

The last question sets off heated discussions about parenting style and substance well into the night. Suddenly, we are like two clan members fighting over ancestral moral territory that neither of us really cares to defend. While our teenage daughter slumbers, presumably dreaming of Shawn Mendes and Ray-Bans, we are left existentially exhausted.

It’s funny. We seem so in tune. If an outsider treats our child badly, we’re steadfast allies taking no prisoners. Medical emergency? We are a well-trained triage team moving in perfect unison. Boyfriend troubles? Mom heals a broken heart while dad runs to Baskin-Robbins to soothe the wound.

My wife and I are both nurturing, honest, and funny. We’re homebodies who love being with our teenage daughters for dinner or having open discussions with them.

But our high-school and college-age daughters see the fundamental differences in our personalities and parenting styles. My “don’t worry, be happy” attitude. My wife’s common-sense, firmer approach. My extroverted exuberance. Her introverted resiliency. My strengths. Her strengths. Our strengths, and our weaknesses.

So maybe next time I’ll text my wife before I drive my daughter … better to be safely aligned than have to say you’re sorry.

Brian Rutter

Brian Rutter is a hard-working husband, dad, and hypoallergenic dog owner who continues to make his way through the weeds and tweeds in suburban Connecticut. He blogs at www.theburbman.com.

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