Friday 25 May 2018

Parents at war

As 'Brangelina' came to an end this week, reports suggest the pair fought over how to raise their children. It's a common problem, writes Chrissie Russell

It’s all over: Brad and Angelina
It’s all over: Brad and Angelina
Brad and Angelina out and about with three of their six children
Peter Andre and Katie Price
Karin McGrath, husband Liam and their three kids
Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise and Suri

Brangelina is no more. After 12 years together, and two years of marriage, this week marked The End for one of Hollywood's most famous power couples and their rainbow family.

A veritable litany of woes has been reported as fuelling the "irreconcilable differences" that prompted Angelina Jolie (41) to file divorce papers on Monday.

Not only have there been rumours of Brad Pitt (52) having an affair with his 'Allied' co-star Marion Cotillard (40), but a source was also quoted on US website TMZ stating that Jolie was fed up with her husband's consumption of "weed and possibly alcohol" mixed with his "anger problem".

But perhaps the irreconcilable difference that many non-A-list parents will find easiest to relate to is the suggestion that the pair fought over how to raise their children. It's been reported that Jolie's decision to file, and seek custody of the couple's six kids, was because of the way that "Brad was parenting the children". It hasn't come out exactly what constituted their child-rearing conflicts, but apparently the actress was "extremely upset with his methods".

"It doesn't matter who you are, parenting is something that can be quite divisive," says Joanna Fortune, a clinical psychotherapist and director of Solamh, a parent-child relationship clinic. "Parenting, money and sex, these are the things that people really struggle through."

Just last year a survey by childcare website found that the average set of parents argues eight times a month about child rearing, with differing thoughts on discipline proving the most frequent bone of contention.

It's the subject that Brazilian-born mum-of-three Karin McGrath admits has often left her at odds with her Irish husband Liam. "I think culturally there are big differences," explains the Balbriggan-based mum, who has sons Luka (15) and Daniel (10), and daughter Ana (8). "In Brazil it's very much 'children need discipline and they need it now', whereas in Ireland it's very laid-back, 'ah you'll be grand'.

"In the beginning especially, it was very hard to find a balance for what was too much and what was too little," she adds. "It was very frustrating, I wanted to do things the way I was brought up, and Liam wanted (to do them) the way he was - we had lots of disagreements."

On one occasion Karin made the difficult decision to ban her son from going to an Ireland soccer match because he'd continued fighting with his brother after being warned what would happen.

"Liam was saying 'sure let him go, he can do something else', but I feel you have to be consistent and children have to know there are consequences to their actions, even though it broke my heart to do it," explains Karin.

The big trap that she didn't want to fall into was being 'the discipline parent' whilst her husband took on the 'fun role'. "I didn't want my kids, especially our little girl, to think I'm the one to punish and daddy is 'let's go play'."

Joanna says that addressing issues with different parenting styles can be hugely emotive because often our choices relate to our own upbringings and may even be tied in with unaddressed issues from our own childhoods.

"The best way to discover our own unresolved issues is to have a child," she explains. "It's quite a delicate topic and so close to the surface."

She says the important thing is to communicate why you might feel strongly about a parenting issue rather than just saying 'this is how we're doing it'. It's also important to have these discussions away from the children.

"Children need to see you as united and they need calm, consistent, predictable parenting, especially on the big things like food, sleep, discipline and routine," advises Joanna.

"You're never going to be on the same page about everything, but you need to be able to embrace the art of compromise and share a strategy on the main issues.

"And if you can't do that on your own, bring in a third party.

"Sometimes it's easier to talk about things in a room with another person and a lot of people now recognise that parenting is hard and it's OK to ask for help."

Interestingly Joanna says she is seeing more couples coming to her before they have a baby to chat about how they'll approach parenting, particularly on issues of schooling, religion and discipline.

But conflict over parenting styles certainly doesn't have to signal the end of a relationship. Karin says she and Liam never felt in any danger. They were able to talk about their differing ideas on discipline and resolve issues away from the children.

The couple also found it easier as the children got older and they could see their approach had produced content, polite, well-balanced kids.

"I grew up with a lot of arguments and I wouldn't want that for our children," says Karin.

"If something is going on, I say it to him first and we talk it over together before saying anything to the children.

"I know sometimes I can be too emotional, but Liam is better at listening and getting them to talk about problems.

"We both have our own strengths when it comes to parenting and we're stronger together."

Joanna adds: "When you peel back different parenting styles, they often have more in common than different.

"It's important to remember that just because your partner might want to do something differently to you, it doesn't make either way 'wrong'. Everyone wants to be a good parent and good enough is good enough."

The celeb exes who fight over how to raise their children

Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise and Suri

When Tom Cruise and Katie separated in 2012 after five years of marriage, conflicting ideas on how to raise their daughter Suri were widely reported to be at the heart of the split.

Katie was said to have been unhappy with Tom's ties to Scientology and the role the controversial religion would play in her daughter's life, whilst also feeling uneasy about her husband's lax attitude to discipline and their contrasting ideas on whether or not the youngster should go to school.

Co-parenting continues to be a challenge for exes Peter Andre and Katie Price. Just recently Peter revealed he and his former spouse were striving to "work together" after the model signed their children, Junior (11) and Princess (9), up for their own Instagram accounts without Peter being fully on board with the kids having an online presence so young.

And earlier this year, while locked in a custody battle, Guy Ritchie railed against his ex-wife Madonna's stern parental style, branding it as 'counterproductive' to their son Rocco's development.

Irish Independent

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