You’ve grounded your child, taking away television privileges. You come back home from running errands, only to find your partner and your child watching television. “Dad said I could!” exclaims your child. “You’re being unfair,” says your partner, in front of your child. “What she or he did was no big deal, and I wouldn’t have handled the situation that way.”

What is “no big deal” to one parent, maybe a big deal to the other. But nevertheless, it is never appropriate to sabotage another parent’s discipline in front of your child. And even though, as a child, you said that you would never parent like your parent, you and your mate bring to your marriage those very parenting roles that you both experienced, good or bad. These are the patterns that you know how to do… that make up your comfort zone. And by the way, because you didn’t turn out so badly, you reach for this parenting style when you become a parent. 

We do what we know

You instinctively parent our children the way you were parented: you’ve been brought up one way and your partner another. This truth inevitably leads to differences in both the expectations and the methods of parenting. You bring to your marriage, your family of origin, and the way your parents parented you. And even if you didn’t like a lot of what your parents did, you reach for what you know.

In our minds, we feel justified: you’ve never been a parent before, so you project onto your new family all of the feelings and values from your home. After all, that is who you are and what you bring to your marriage. So, when you look down that long tunnel of parenting options, you pull out the familiar. Our expectations often hit a wall called The Other Parent, and we don’t understand why our partner can’t see things our way. Conflict in child rearing can cause chaos in your marriage and is one of the greatest causes of divorce.

What to do if you and your partner’s parenting styles clash:

  1. Communicate regularly and openly with your partner. Communication is the key to everything.
  2. Know your child. Different children require different parenting styles at different times. For example, you would discipline a shy child much differently than you would an aggressive child.
  3. Educate yourself. Make sure you are fully aware of what is going on with your children in this day and age rather than just guessing or basing your knowledge on your own childhood experience. Talk with other parents, and know what your children’s peer groups are doing.
  4. Engage in the empathic process. Set up a neutral space, such as the kitchen, for you and your mate to communicate regularly about family problems. The kitchen is the heart of the house, where alchemy happens. Here, you’re creating new traditions and education styles that fit your new family. Be honest, and do not get defensive when your mate is speaking. This gives you a chance to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly of your own upbringing, and your partner has a chance to do the same.
  5. Come up with a parenting plan that will work for your family and the kind of children you have. You bring to the plan one parenting item that is of utmost importance to you and is non-negotiable, and your partner does the same. Then, work together to negotiate the rest until you have a new plan that reflects your combined parenting styles.
  6. Once you have a combined parenting plan, stick with it. Be consistent. Then kids know what to expect and what the consequences will be. Once you’ve settled what you’re willing to do in merging two different families of origin, then you sit down with your kids and verbally lay out the rules, together. Investing your children in the discipline process will make them more likely to follow the rules they have taken part in creating.
  7. Always present a united front before your children. Do not disagree with each other or question each other’s parenting decision in front of your children; if you disagree, have that conversation with your partner outside of earshot of your children. United you stand, divided you fall. 
  8. Seek help. If communication breaks down, for example, if you or your mate sabotage one another in front of your children, you may need to explore the reasons behind your behavior. Perhaps, anger and dysfunction are being projected in your parenting roles. Then it’s time to see a therapist. Seek professional help to bring you and your partner back to a middle ground where you can learn to communicate and support each other.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.