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Good Cop, Bad Cop: How To Merge Parenting Styles

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Good Cop, Bad Cop: How To Merge Parenting Styles
He parents one way, you parent another, but which is the right way?

We're in the car driving a sunset stretch of Central Oregon on what feels like the longest road-trip ever. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? When are we going to be there?

Back in the day my husband and I once cannonballed straight through from Oregon to Ohio in a 36-hour marathon that felt shorter by days than this quick trip over the mountains. Roxie, our six-year-old, is finally sleeping, but three-year-old Lila is out-of-control whining in her car seat.

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"I want to get OUT of this car," she says. Over and over, she's practically screaming when Sam pulls onto the gravel shoulder, gets out and grabs her from the car seat. I want to punch him. I hear the refrain of my childhood "I'll pull this car over right now and leave you here if you don't stop this minute." Whatever he's doing, I'm sure it's wrong. He's going to make it worse and it's going to scar our daughter for life. Minutes later he snaps a smiling Lila back into her seat, and we're back on the road.

"What the hell?" I say. "How did you do that?"

"I just asked if she wanted to jump up and down for a few minutes to get her whines out," he said. "And I told her we're almost there."

Voila. Not even close to how I'd handle the situation. And it was perfect.

Seven years earlier when I was pregnant with our older daughter, my midwife told me she believes the greatest benefit of having two parents the way it teaches a child there is no single right way. Different people do things differently. And that's okay. Better than okay, it's good. Realizing that diversity in parenting is a good thing is easy—putting it into practice is not.

Seven years later, my big fat head still cannot accept that Sam's approach is not "wrong" every time he does something differently than I might have. More often than not his way works just as well—or better, even—than anything I would have done. Sometimes it's just a total crap shoot. That getting out of the car thing could easily have backfired, but it didn't, and it had much better odds of succeeding than my hold-her-hand-and-reason-with-her approach. We already knew that was tanking. Why not try something else?

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