When discipline differences between divorced parents rear their ugly head, even the most amiable co-parents can begin to feel edgy and frustrated. Navigating issues such as what's an appropriate bedtime for 5-year-old Rebecca, to at what age should Charlie get a cell phone can easily put parents at odds with one another.
As divorce coach the topic of managing different parenting styles comes up often. Parents want to know "How can I make my Ex understand the rules need to be the same in both houses?" or "My Ex lets the kids do anything they want and I'm always the bad guy, what do I do? " Clearly for lots of parents, dealing with deviations between rules and structure can be a source of ongoing conflict and tension.
Although mirroring structure across households is ideal for kids after Mom and Dad split up, it's not the end of the world if you aren't in sync chapter and verse. Often the key to how well kids deal with differences has to do with how well you're dealing with them.
If you and your ex don't agree on discipline related issues, here are five tips for managing differences constructively.
When you let kids know you have strong feelings about the other parent's rules expect that they may use those differences to gain a little leverage. Imagine 10-year-old Mason is watching TV and Mom say's it's time to do his homework. Mason's response is, "Why do I have to stop watching TV? Dad lets me do my homework in the living room with the TV on." Immediately Mom reacts to Mason's baulking by sharing a few choice words about Dad and before you know it, things get out of hand. Mom is ticked, Mason is fuming and the homework still isn't done.
To get a little perspective when differences crop up, ask yourself if this happened at Grandma's house or your child was at a friend's house, how would you handle the situation differently?
Chances are if Grandma was the culprit, you would say something like, "That's great that Grandma lets you watch TV when you do your homework. In this house, things are different. When you finish your homework then you can watch TV."
Don't make assumptions
Before you throw your Ex under the bus for letting your kids do things that you wouldn't, keep in mind it might be wise to check with the other parent first. Again, any self-respecting kid at some point will try to play both ends against the middle. When a disagreement comes up over a rule difference you may want to respond by say something like, "Wow, Mom lets you stay up until midnight on a school night? Guess I'd better give her a call to find out more about that."
You may find there's more to story than what was initially presented.
Find middle ground
While you may not see eye to eye with your ex on how to discipline, make an effort to identify what you do agree on. For instance, while you may have different ideas about bedtimes you can both agree that you want to your children to be safe, respectful and well-behaved children.
Even if you don't agree with the other parent's perspective, make sure not to contradict or undermine their authority with kids. While it may feel good to join in when your kids are complaining about Dad's no texting at the dinner table rule, remember the tide is always turning. Tomorrow you may be the new thorn in their side, when you tell them they can't stay up late on a school night. Bottom line, even when kids don't like the rules, support that each parent deserves respect.
Keep life predictable
Divorce brings lots of change to children's lives, during this time they need to know life is going to be okay. Although things maybe different in each household do your best to let your children know what they can expect when they are with you in your home. Consider using charts, calendars and consistent routines to help your children stay on track. Keeping life predictable for kids not only leaves children feeling more secure; it will also make transitions from one home to the other less stressful.
By focusing on your home (what you can control) instead of what your Ex's does or doesn't do (what you can't control) you'll not only make the situation better for your kids but chances are you'll feel less stressed too.