When Parenting Styles Conflict

by cv harquail on January 6, 2016

Au Pairs and Host Children need consistent expectations from Parents in order to do well.  

In families where both Host Parents have a similar parenting philosophy, or where one parent takes the “lead” and makes all the parenting decisions, ‘doing a great job’ is easier for Au Pairs. AuPairs need to adapt to only one parenting style, and things are simple-ish.

However, when there are two parents giving different directions, Au Pairs get stuck between the two.5831958433_e451ace4ef_m This happens in families with divorced parents and two households, and in families where both host parents are involved in childcare. Often, changes can occur during an Au Pair’s year — such as when parents split up or when the second parent suddenly is home more often (e.g., now working from home, between jobs).

How can Host Parents manage situations where their Parenting Styles conflict and send contradictory messages to the Au Pair?

It’s up to both Host Parents to set a consistent tone and set of expectations — for the Au Pair AND for their child(ren).

It’s too hard to do a good job as an Au Pair when you’re trying to follow two different sets of expectations, sometimes within the same household.  And, it’s impossible for children to feel confident and secure when expectations are around them wobble from one style to another.

A conflict in parenting styles is a conflict between parents.

Our parenting styles reflect our values, our beliefs about what’s right and wrong, and our understand of how best to lead our families. When parents disagree and these disagreements are based on philosophical differences or style differences, one or both of the parents must adjust. This means that parents have to have a heart-to-heart about how to raise their children (easier if they are partnered, often related to the cause of separation if the parents are split).

We can’t leave it up to the Au Pair to find the ‘middle ground’. The Au Pair will then always have her/his authority undercut by one parent or the other.

  • What should a Host Parent do, to resolve this sort of conflict?
  • What can Au Pairs do, when they discover that they are getting different messages from different Host Parents? 

Dear AuPairMom–

My current AP and I have a great relationship and rapport.  She is older and very responsible, takes great care of the kids and is well organized.  She knows the rules (for the kids and herself) and follows them while exercising reasonable flexibility.  I trust her judgement and have not been disappointed so far.  

My DH on the other hand, is “permissive Dad” who rarely says no to a treat, screen time or a disarrayed schedule.  He explains that his parenting style is a way of showing his kids how much he loves them. I also believe that some of it comes from an unwillingness to deal with the consequences of telling the children “no”.

Until now, the differences in our parenting styles has had little impact on my life or that of my AP, because my DH has travelled a lot and is only home on weekends.  However, he is changing jobs and will now be home every evening, in time to interact with the kids and the Au Pair. This is great for the kids, obviously, but will be tough for our Au Pair.  His parenting style will make her job (and mine) MUCH harder.

I’m worried that our Au Pair will end up rematching.  I don’t want to lose an amazing AP because DH turns her calm world upside down.

~ NeedingEveryoneOnTheSameTeam Host Mom

  Image by Brett Jordan on Flickr


NJ Mom January 6, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Our children already know that different caretakers have slightly different rules, and they have to follow the rules of whoever is in charge. If the other parent/caretaker happens to be at home, they need to back up whoever is “in charge” at the time even if they would do it differently. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect everyone to do everything exactly the same. For example, our kids know that at home, they have to eat food in the kitchen, but at the grandparent’s house they can eat on the couch or in bed. That being said, when you have different caretakers, everyone needs to back each other up during joint caretaking and at hand offs. That will require compromise and a willingness to try things the other person’s way.

From the sounds of it, there is quite a bit of conflict between HM and HD on how to handle different situations and addressing it was put off since HD is not often at home. Until they can come to some sort of compromise on the major rules, AP will need to use her best judgement. The kids’ behavior will change to some degree (as with any major change at home) but should settle down. If there’s a disagreement or undermining with parenting, AP will need to say “Why don’t the two of you decide what’s best and let me know how you’d like me to handle XYZ in the future”. That can help keep her from being caught in the middle or being pressured to take sides. And also keep in mind that learning how to handle conflicting instructions from 2 different bosses is a skill that is useful in any job.

TexasHM January 6, 2016 at 8:33 pm

I feel for the OP although honestly my first thought was that she was going to say “I’m worried I might strangle my husband in front of the AP” vs “I’m worried my AP might rematch”! ;)

This is tough. Totally agreed with NJMom that whoever is “on duty” sets the policy and NOBODY overrides. We do this with our APs as well. Since I don’t go into an office I am often in and out of the house on days I have meetings or slow weeks/holidays I don’t have meetings and end up working from home. Many APs get very worried about this and think I am going to hover and override them at every turn. Luckily I have ex-APs that will attest I give them full authority and if the kids come to me during her working hours I send them straight back to AP – no exceptions. I will ask them “who is the boss right now” and they know. No funny business. If something happens I disagree with or I hear something I don’t like I tell them later in private just like I do with DH if I feel like something wasn’t handled well or needs to be tweaked (and vice versa).

If you fear that your DH will override her then your worry is validated I am afraid.

I think you need to lay this out with DH frankly. His job is changing, you have tolerated the chaos in short bursts because he hasn’t been home as often and has wanted his limited interaction with the kids to be fun and memorable – fine! BUT – now that is changing and he can’t use the “I see them so little” excuse anymore. He is making a significant shift and as such, he needs to fall in line with what you and AP have going on or the two of you need to sit down and map out a compromise that you can both live with and then loop in the AP so you all start on the same page and then he needs to follow it.

I can appreciate he doesn’t want to deal with the fallout of saying no but come on, that is literally our job as parents and if you don’t you get plastered on a magazine as the worst parents ever – see current Affluenza case! I feel for you. I mean doesn’t everyone want to be the fun awesome parent that makes the kids every wish come true? Sure! But I live in the real world and in the real world there are real consequences.

I would make DH agree at minimum to backup whoever is on duty and you both tell AP that so if he starts overriding her she knows that is not what was agreed on and can push back (if shes brave enough) or at least let you know that things are off track before they are too far gone and she wants to rematch and I think involving her in the conversation will also tell her you care and you are acutely aware of the difficulty this job change will bring to her as well and I think she will appreciate that which will also buy you some buffer before she just throws in the towel thinking you don’t see it or don’t care.

WarmStateMomma January 6, 2016 at 11:02 pm

Agreed! It’s unfair for one parent to always be the fun one who approves treats and screen time while the other has to play bad cop and make sure teeth get brushed and vegetables consumed.

I’d have exactly the chat with the husband that TexasHM recommends. Regardless of whether the AP stays, the issue of the husband claiming the good cop role for himself and leaving the hard work for the other adults in the house is not going to solve itself. If the OP can find a way to get her husband on board with the necessary changes to his parenting style before the job change, it might feel more like collaborative planning for a big change instead of an attack on his parenting style.

My husband is also a weak enforcer but we have a few hard-and-fast rules and my kid is old enough to snitch on him if he lets her break any of them. It helps to remind him that we can’t expect the AP to enforce a boatload of rules that we ignore. This is probably one of the best tools I have for keeping him from falling off the wagon, actually, on the tough days. No one wants to be seen as a hypocrite in front of their AP, spouse or kids.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 6, 2016 at 10:01 pm

NJ Mom, it can be very hard to relinquish authority, especially if you’ve been the primary parent for a long time. First, realize that kids have to learn to deal with a variety of adults in their lives, not just you, HD, and the rotation of APs who will enter and exit your doors, but teachers, coaches, etc. The sooner they learn that everyone’s rules differ slightly and it is they who must adjust, the better adapted they will be to the vagaries of adult life. (Want success at work, adapt to the boss, not vice versa.) As long as DH is not physically, verbally, or mentally harming your children, then let it go.

As as proactive HP, you should do what every proactive HP needs to do to have a successful year with your AP – warn her up front. Things are about to change. Enlist her support – just because DH is around more doesn’t automatically mean that there will be less for her to do… But also warn your DH – when the AP is in charge, please don’t contradict her. Remind him that he won’t be showing his children love by undermining the AP. If she says no to TV, then he should not say “yes” while she’s the adult-in-charge.

AuPair Paris January 7, 2016 at 3:22 pm

This is really hard. I had this issue once or twice, but only very occasionally – I was lucky enough to have a system where when a parent was home, I was off. Which is maybe the best way to deal with it, if you can book AP’s hours at a different time – then HD can have his quality time with the kids, and he’s the only one who has to deal with the sugar-high, over-excited consequences.

Otherwise… It’s another issue of communication, communication, communication. HD can parent how he parents, of course! But, if the AP has responsibilities she has to fulfill, he shouldn’t get in the way of that. A frank talk between HM and HD (with or without AP, depending on how contentious this issue is likely to get… I’d suggest without, at first) can lay this out. Like “you are always free to spend time with the kids how you like, but if AP is trying to serve dinner so they can rush to x activity on time, don’t let them keep playing video games instead of eating” or “it’s fine if you’re relaxed with the kids but on x day from x to y time, they have homework, music practice and x activity, so could you take a back seat while that’s all rushed through?” (But more nicely probably.)

As far as I was concerned, I really didn’t mind how HPs interacted with their kids, UNLESS it interfered with my job in a way that would make the other HP upset or annoyed with me. It also needs to be clear, if AP is on duty but an HP is home, who is actually on the front line at that moment. Is AP there to discipline and run things during that time? Or is she there to finish up errands, baths, and dinners, but leave kids to their Dad otherwise? Is HD there to deal with homework, music practice, chores? Or is he there to sit in the background playing with the kids while AP sees that the important things get done? Everyone needs to understand that, or it just gets really difficult. You get AP sitting there, biting her nails, because at this rate HK 3 will never finish his homework, and that’s always been her responsibility to oversee… But she can’t contradict HD and argh!

So yeah. Defined “roles” and good communication of them, I think.

German Au-Pair January 7, 2016 at 7:26 pm

The different parent styles are a problem between the HP that they should fix amongst themselves. HM needs to sit HD down for a serious talk. Maybe being the cool parent is understandable and okay when you only see your kids on the weekend but it’s not when “get what you want” is every-day life for them.
I was a child who didn’t take her parents all too seriously and I was always searching for more guidance, so from personal experience I can tell you: it’s not a demonstration of love and children actually seek someone who is consistent in what they do.
As I’ve said, that is something that the HP need to solve amongst themselves.
One thing they need to be very clear about however is that the AP will be backed in all her decisions. If HD wants to give the kids sweets that’s fine. But if the AP has said no, he never ever can undermine her. If he insists on keeping his n-no-policy that’s his business (and poor HM’s I guess :D ) but he has to do it on his time.
It’s important to not only discuss that but also what kind of consequences the AP can give the children. She can, for example, reasonable expect that her consequences will not be undermined while she is on duty but I’d have a very clear ruleset about after-duty-consequences. For example if she tells the kid it cannot have sweets for the rest of the evening but is only on for another hour, there might be a problem. There needs to be a discussion about A: can she give consequences that will affect the HP’s time with the kids and B. if she can, all parties need to guarantee that they will be kept.
I had serious trouble when homework fuss would lead to the thread of having to do it with an annoyed HP in the evening but the annoyed HP actually did their best to make it fast and fun and helped the kid. Of course the kid would not only not take me serious anymore but actually TRY to get the “punishment”.
Others have said this before: communication is key.
First, talk about how YOU two want to handle the issue, then talk about how you need the situation to be involving the AP and finally have the conversation with her so everyone is on the same page.

Mimi January 13, 2016 at 2:35 am

I feel for you OP, because HD here is typically not on the same page with everyone else because in addition to long work hours, he is not cut out for the kind of attention to detail needed to maintain order in a busy house with 4 HK. The difference is that he knows it and will frequently tell the AP/HKs to check with me on something in case there are details he is not aware of. (There frequently are.) It is a delicate balance and we don’t always get it right, but we communicate about it a lot so that it rarely negatively impacts the AP.

This is a discussion we have in matching and we specifically ask potential APs how they would deal with conflicting info/directions to gauge how they will deal with these inevitable situations, because they are inevitable. Just yesterday the AP called me to make sure she should ignore a note he left for her because it contradicted what had already been discussed and agreed on between us. I confirmed what we had talked about before and discussed it privately with HD afterwards and then we both followed-up with the AP (together) about it with HD apologizing for putting her in an awkward situation.

We often say that an AP should make your life easier and I’d go further to say that HD shouldn’t be making anyone’s job harder, either. This is a difficult situation because IMO it’s just as much about your marriage/co-parenting as it is about the AP issue. There are lots of ways that having an AP can put strain on a marriage and expose weaknesses in the same way that having children does. You’re right to worry that this situation could have a negative effect on your AP and communicating about expectations around authority is a must, both with HD and then the AP (preferably together), but I hope you’re also able to come to a better point with being on the same page with permissiveness because as children get older, they learn to divide and conquer and no one enjoys being the ‘bad guy parent’ all the time.

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