“Before we had children, I always thought Steve and I saw the world in the same way. But now it sometimes seems we are miles apart in our basic views of family life and how to raise our children. We need to talk about them but where do we start?”

Parents often work out their differences informally, but sometimes, you’d benefit from a process that’s a little more structured.

Try to set aside time to talk about the values that guide your parenting, using the questions below. This should be an empathic exploration of how each of you feels rather than an attempt to change anyone’s mind. Really try to understand how your partner came to feel the way they do, and encourage them to do the same.

How you approach being a parent:

  • What does it mean to you to be a parent?
  • If parenthood were a pie divided into four slices (direct child rearing, housework, coordinating with each other, and providing for the family) how big is each slice for you?
  • How does your personality affect your parenting?
  • How has becoming a parent changed you as a person?

How you want to raise a child:

  • What do you think are the most important things to give a child the age of our own?
  • From your own life experiences, what do you feel are important personal characteristics you’d like to see our child develop? What are the top three or four? Is there a number one?
  • There are three central aspects to parenting: nurturing, disciplining, and supporting learning and achievement. Is there one that’s most important to you? If a parent can be high, medium, or low on each aspect, how do you think you should be?
  • What do you wish your mom had done differently? Your dad? How has that affected the kind of parent you want to be?
  • How did your parents work out their differences in parenting styles? How has that experience affected the ways that you approach working out differences with me?

Your values in action:

  • Do any of your values related to raising a family pull in different directions?
  • How do you feel you have been able to act consistently with your values as a parent? How do you feel you have not?
  • How do you feel you have become more skillful as a parent? How would you like to become more skillful in the future?

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This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.