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8 common parenting disagreements couples have — and how to handle them

8 common parenting disagreements couples have — and how to handle them


First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… constant disagreements over how to handle the finances, what to feed your toddler and exactly who did the dishes last. If you feel like you and your partner bicker more now that you have children, you’re not alone: In one study, 90% of couples reported more arguments after having a baby.

From sharing domestic responsibilities to figuring out how and when to discipline your child, familial stressors can threaten the wellbeing of your relationship and even impact the kids. The good news is that, according to Susan Nason of The Parent Whisperer NY, disagreement is normal and not necessarily the sign of a troubled or unhealthy relationship.

“Marriages where disagreement happens a lot can still be very successful,” says Nason. “For some couples, arguments are a way of communicating.”  

Below, parents get real about what sets them and their partners off, while experts suggest what to do.

Argument #1: What is the right way to parent

You’re happy with co-sleeping, but your partner’s ready to sleep train. He’s always sticking an iPad in your child’s hands, whereas you’d prefer the kids lay off screens. She says they’re grounded unless they finish their chores; he takes them to the movies, even though they haven’t finished their homework and their rooms are a mess.

When it comes to parenting styles, Amanda Lee, a mom from Austin, Texas, says she and her husband are total opposites.

“He’s permissive and will pamper them rather than maintaining boundaries and saying no,” Lee says.

Expert advice: While consistency is important, experts say it may actually benefit a child to have parents who don’t parent the same way. Work for an arrangement that both parties can live with, Nason says.

“Respect and honor your partner’s needs,” she says.

Argument #2: What is best to feed the kids

Our attitudes about food go back to our own childhoods, and feeding our kids can trigger our own unresolved issues. Jane Hoffmann, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says her husband grew up with huge, fairly unhealthy meals and a lot of “special occasion eating.” (Hard day at school? Let’s go out to eat! Earned a good grade on a test? Let’s have ice cream!) Hoffman, on the other hand, says she grew up with no frills.

“I want to pass along healthy habits to our children,” Hoffman says.

Expert advice: While our relationship with food can be complicated, Nason says, the answer to this one is easy: “Who’s in charge of the meal? Whether it’s you or your partner who’s doing the cooking, that person gets to decide what gets served.”

Argument #3: What chores to do and how to do them right

Walk the dog. Take out the trash. Prepare supper. Give the baby his bath. In many marriages, an ongoing issue becomes not only who does what but whether the job gets done right.

As New Jersey mom Julia Whitley put it: “Why can’t he actually wash the dishes and load the dishwasher? Why not do all the laundry on one day and fold it all at once instead of load by load?”

Expert advice: Sit down with your partner and divide the chores, Nason advises.

“Then, when our partner’s done a task, we need to let go,” Nason says. “However it’s done, it’s done.”

Argument #4: How to divide the mental load

Mental load” — the trendy term for the invisible and unpaid work that keeps the family organized — often falls on moms. Even in the most modern of heterosexual relationships, it’s still the woman who sends out the birthday party invitations, signs the permission slips, finds the dog sitter and misses work when the kids are sick.

“[My husband] thinks I’m being ridiculous until I rattle off all the things that just miraculously happen so he doesn’t have to think about,” says one anonymous New York City mom. “Like how our son just magically always has clothing to wear even though he grows out of a size every three months.”

Expert advice: According to Gemma Hartley, author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward, “Men often think of their role in parenting as ‘helping’ their partner. But ’help,’ implies that it’s not their responsibility. What we really need is equal partnership.”

Hartley suggests men not wait to be told what to do, but rather they figure out what needs to get done and step up.

Argument #5: How much money to spend on the kids

Similar to food fights, disagreements over money can relate to how we were raised. Adrienne Robinson, of Pleasantville, New York, says she and her husband commonly argue about how much Adrienne spends on their 3-year-old’s clothes.

“My husband is concerned this attitude will make her spoiled,” Robinson says.

Expert advice: “Having a full, honest view of your finances is step one,” says financial guru and dad Scott Goldstein. “Many people who drift through life unaware would be shocked to see what they actually spend. If Adrienne and her husband can jointly agree on a budget range for clothing, that may help forestall arguments.”

Argument #6: Who gets to sleep

There’s nothing worse than fighting with your partner at 4 a.m. while your 11-month-old wails in the next room. Heather Jones, of Toronto, Ontario, says she and her husband often argue over who gets to sleep.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s waking up with the kids, or taking a midday nap, we both think it’s our turn,” Jones says. “Kids are exhausting!”

Expert advice: Take a calendar and divvy it up, Nason suggests, “but, make room for exceptions.”

If someone has a critical work meeting or when someone’s sick, that person gets to snooze.

Argument #7: Who takes on the second shift

Parenting is an around-the-clock job, so what do you do when your partner consistently fails to report for work after work? Like mental load, child care responsibilities after 5 p.m. but before the kids are asleep — commonly referred to as the “second shift” — fall disproportionately on mothers, including moms who work outside the home.  

“My husband constantly has afterwork commitments during the weekdays. He thinks the kids go to sleep on their own,” says Rosalia Tabbita Yagiz, of New York City.

Expert advice: “This is another good reason to have a family calendar,” Nason says. “Again, if it’s a make or break business meeting that’s come up suddenly, there’s an exception. Otherwise, any absences are agreed upon in advance.”

Argument #8: What values are most important

Rebecca Bodenheimer, of Oakland, California, says she clashes with her husband when it comes to gender expectations.

“We disagree on what our son wears, whether he can paint his nails and whether a certain color or toy is meant for girls or boys,” Bodenheimer says.

Expert advice: Parenting, perhaps more than anything else, Nason says, reveals our values.

“We’re under stress,” says Nason. “There’s also fear. The truth is that this child is going to be who they are no matter what. How wonderful if both parents can accept him.”