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How to Resolve Parenting Conflicts with Dr. Aleja Parsons

It’s not easy when parents have very different ideas about raising the kids. Leaving these conflicts unresolved is a recipe for resentment and eroded relationships. Dr. Coor interviews Dr. Aleja Parsons to get some tips for improving communication with your co-parent.

By
Nanika Coor, Psy. D.
3-minute read
Episode #655
The Quick And Dirty
  • Lead with curiosity—what are your co-parent’s underlying needs and fears about parenting?
  • Trade defending your point for showing understanding of your co-parent’s perspective.
  • Be authentic about what you’re feeling and validate what the other parenting is feeling.
  • Make mutual vulnerability your goal.

One of the most common issues I deal with in my practice is when two parents—whether they are together or parenting separately—are on very different pages when it comes to parenting styles. One parent, for instance, places a lot of value on feelings, connection, and finding mutually beneficial solutions, and one parent’s focus is getting the children to comply with directives quickly, efficiently, and without complaint.

To get some tips on this subject, I interviewed Dr. Aleja Parsons, a researcher, coach, and clinical psychologist in private practice in Brooklyn, New York.

Dr. Parsons specializes in getting couples “unstuck” from long-standing destructive patterns. She works with couples to help clarify the cycles keeping them trapped and provides tools for them to join together against the issues tearing them apart. Dr. Parsons has extensive training in working with people of color and uses a multicultural framework to help couples navigate the ways that their racial identities shape their interactions in their relationships.

Dr. Parsons’ work helps couples rediscover the love and compassion that brought them together and gives value-based goal-posts to keep them on track in maintaining the relationship they’ve always wanted. As an Assistant Professor at NYU, Dr. Parson’s research focuses on the alleviation of relationship and family distress in underrepresented populations, with a specific emphasis on Black couples and family systems.

I think you’ll enjoy our chat and come away with a better understanding of ways co-parents can learn to communicate better. 

Here are some key takeaways from our conversation:

  • Get curious about the underlying emotional needs of your co-parent that are fueling the parenting behaviors you dislike.
  • To increase your opportunities for open conversation and being heard yourself, connect and empathize with and verbally validate the emotional needs underneath your co-parent’s parenting behaviors.
  • Resist the urge to defend your opinion and parenting stance. Focus on showing understanding of your co-parent’s position. 
  • Understand that your co-parent may be unfamiliar with identifying and discussing feelings and needs. If this is the case, model identifying feelings and check in with them for clarity. “Seems like you might be irritated—is that what’s going on?” This will give your partner the opportunity to reflect on their emotional state in the moment, and models talking about feelings openly.
  • Be open to hearing what’s truly going on for your co-parent without trying to talk them out of their feelings.
  • Speaking aloud about parents’ underlying feelings in the moment gives children—who may have overheard parental arguments—some context for their parents’ upset rather than blaming themselves.
  • Model relational repair for your children and your co-parent. If kids notice you arguing with their other parent, stop as soon as you become aware of this. Name your mistake, take accountability for it, apologize and make a plan to shift your behavior in the future.
  • Take the risk of being vulnerable with your co-parent to build deeper connection and goodwill between you to have a better chance of truly hearing each other.
  • Take stock of why your parenting style is important to you and consider sharing this with your child’s other parent. Do you have a fear rooted in your own background that you worry will occur if you don’t parent in this way? Explore the other parent’s underlying fears of not parenting in the ways they feel are important. Parents often find their underlying fears are quite similar, but you’re using different strategies to manage that common fear.
  • Mutual vulnerability makes for change in relationships. Make feeling safe being vulnerable with one another as parents the goal, rather than trying to force your co-parent to see things your way, which leads to a double-down of defensiveness - not effective communication.
  • Defending your positions happens when your nervous system is in fight-or-flight and the part of your brain that functions with logic and reason is shut down. The calmer your nervous system, the more access you have to the part of your brain that can process information and work toward change.
  • Couples therapy is not just for when there is a problem in a relationship. Relationships are so hard, and couples therapy can also be a support for maintaining the positive connection in a relationship.
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Nanika Coor, Psy. D.

Dr. Nanika Coor is a New York-based clinical psychologist and respectful parenting therapist. She helps overwhelmed parents hear a kinder inner voice and experience more mutually-respectful interactions with their children. Find out more about her work at www.brooklynparenttherapy.com.

Got a question that you'd like Dr. Coor to answer on Project Parenthood? Leave her a message at (646) 926-3243 or send an email to parenthood@quickanddirtytips.com