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Handling conflict between parents

It's best when mom and dad are consistent and work as a team. Yet you won't always agree. While the two of you might not always see eye-to-eye on parenting, you can try to resolve conflict in healthy ways.

Raising a child is rewarding, but it's also hard. And, even in the best cases, parents may not agree about some aspects of how to best bring up their little one.

But whether you're at odds over how to start toilet training or some larger issue, it's important to try to work through your differences. Using a team approach to parenting is best for both of you and your child.

Conflicts parents face

Conflict between parents can come up for many reasons. They might include:

Inconsistent rules and expectations. Moms and dads don't always see eye-to-eye on family rules. For example, one of you may be less strict about bedtime or limits on watching TV. Or, you may disagree about how best to discipline your child or about what behavior is OK.

In these cases, mixed messages may confuse a child. One parent may end up undermining the other's authority, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In time, kids also may learn to play one parent against the other.

Different values. You may find that you and your child's other parent have differing values or goals for raising kids. For example, you might not agree about who should handle certain child care duties. One parent might be more protective than the other. Or, maybe you disagree about some values and beliefs to teach your child.

Competition for the child's attention. When parents struggle for a child's love and attention, it puts the child in the middle of a bad situation, notes the AAP.

This may be common in families where mom and dad don't live together. But it can happen even when everyone is in the same home. Parents may vie to be the child's favorite by being less strict than the other parent with rules or discipline.

What parents can do

Whatever the conflict, take steps to resolve it. You can't always agree on every little thing. But you can deal with conflict in healthy ways. These ideas may help:

Be clear with each other. It's important to be clear with kids about rules and expectations. But it's also important for parents to talk about these issues with each other.

In fact, the two of you may want to write down your rules and expectations. Then, go over them to make sure that they will work, suggests the AAP.

If you and your child's other parent live apart, you still need to try to be on the same page about discipline and rules. This is best for your child.

Seek middle ground. If you disagree about something, aim for a compromise both of you can live with. Then, stick by it, the AAP advises.

Stay connected. Talk to each other every day about what's going on in your family. If needed, set aside times to check in, says the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). For instance, you might talk things over while your child naps or first goes to sleep.

Resolving conflict

It's important to keep in mind that parents are role models in many ways—including how they handle conflict. The ways in which you resolve problems can shape how your child deals with conflict later on in life.

If something's bugging you, be honest and direct. Calmly explain why you're upset. Be respectful, and offer solutions. Be sure to avoid shouting and calling each other names.

In addition, the AAP suggests that parents take these basic steps to help resolve conflict:

  • Listen to each other.
  • Clarify points where you differ.
  • Take each other's feelings seriously.
  • Come up with alternative ideas together.
  • Be ready to negotiate.

Try to avoid arguing and especially yelling in front of your child. If you do quarrel openly, work on making up. Little ones need to see their parents work things out, notes the AAFP.

Need help?

Sometimes conflict is more than parents can handle. In particular, if you can't agree on matters of your child's health or safety, seek help from someone trained to offer advice, according to the AAP.

Reviewed 3/5/2023

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