Parenting on the same page: does mum always know best?

By psychologist Angie Willcocks

One of the biggest causes of arguments among couples is parenting, and a common trigger for disagreements is one parent telling the other how best to do the job. You might think this problem is a symptom of FIFO living, but actually it is typical of all two-parent households where one parent is the main carer of children. (And since mums still predominantly take on the role, this article is written about mums telling dads how to parent. If your situation is reversed, just reverse the terms!)

In my work as a psychologist, I hear many examples of mums telling dads how to parent. Consequently, the dad feels criticised and pulls back from parenting. Why is this so common? Probably because mums still handle most of the day-to-day decision making and discipline. As a result, they do tend to know (and without too much thought) what the routine is, what the current issues are, where the favourite cup can be found and what’s likely to cause a tantrum this week.

All this knowledge can give mum the idea that she knows best about parenting. This leads to two things: first, mum frequently telling dad the ‘right’ way to do things with the children; second, dad pulling back from parenting as a result.

It’s not too hard to see how each of these actions is self-perpetuating – one leads to the other and so on and so on. Ultimately, it can lead to mum feeling unsupported and dad feeling ‘useless’ … and possibly disconnected from his kids.

While it is obvious that more time spent with the kids will lead to greater practical knowledge, it doesn’t need to cause to friction. With a little effort, couples can ‘parent’ from the same page and both play an important role, even if one spends more time with the children.

Here are some tips:

On a positive note, the FIFO lifestyle actually provides a great opportunity for parents to be on the same page. From my observations, FIFO families can be some of the best communicators because they make the time to discuss the issues instead of assuming that dad will ‘just know’. One family I know made time at the start of every break to catch up with purely practical parenting issues. This was also very helpful in sending a strong message to the kids that mum and dad were a united team. Also, the FIFO lifestyle provides the opportunity for dad to be home for whole days, so he can see and take part first hand in day-to-day parenting.

‘Getting on the same page’ with parenting is a column in itself, but the most basic tip I have is to BOTH read some parenting books. It might not be fun or interesting, and it might not be ‘your thing’, but books like these can be very useful for reaching agreement on how to parent your children. I’d recommend:

Parent Effective Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Dr Gordon
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