Lately, it seems that there is a new parenting 'expert' around every corner, each advocating a completely different style and skill set. And although this increased focus on parenting is a good thing, it is a double edged sword: clashes over parenting have become an increasingly common cause of divorce, experts say.

Parents naturally approach parenting in different ways, according to parent educator Gerry Turpin. It's normal for one parent to be more strict than the other, based on their own family backgrounds. However, Turpin has seen a change in how parents deal with their differences. When under duress, today's couples "tend to latch onto parenting as one of their tools for the war," he said.

Such disputes are not often the only reason that couples split. But as parenting has become more of a focus, parents have become more passionate about it, and it can intensify into a major sticking point. According to marriage and family coach David Code, today's parenting styles are generally similar to those of 50 years ago. However, the seriousness with which parents take their duties has changed, as parents "bring a new intensity" to it, Code said.

Additionally, when parenting disputes escalate, it can have a snowball effect, with parents eventually "married to their children instead of each other," Code said.  Couples must take action to ensure they remain connected to each other.  In research at the University of California, Berkeley, parents who attended a weekly couples' group for several months before and after having their first child were more likely to maintain marital satisfaction for five years, compared with those who did not attend.

Turpin says that working to resolve parenting issues can have a positive effect on the marriage and the family unit as a whole, as the parents gain confidence in dealing with family issues.

"For a family to thrive," he said, "it's got to begin with the couple."

Source: The Globe and Mail, "Disagreements over child-rearing are growing cause of divorce", Adriana Barton, 13 September 2010