In this series on building positive co-parenting relationships after a divorce, we’ve already looked at the importance of not ‘trash-talking’ your ex in front of your children, and how to structure parent to parent communication. Moving forward, we are going to look at the next item on the list, namely how to go about making your values and expectations known. Because divorce is hard enough as it is, anything you can do to make the process of co-parenting your children in the aftermath easier, is a good thing.
3. Making Your Values & Expectations Known
One of the greatest struggles that divorced parents face is handling the ‘two households = two sets of rules‘ issue. Every now and again we run into a divorcing couple who are entirely on the same page about how their children should be raised. They may not be able to agree in any other area, but they are an indivisible united front when it comes to their kids, which makes parenting so much easier. But for most people, this just isn’t the case. In fact, most happily married couples face disagreements on how to parent their children, so not agreeing with your ex about how you want your kids raised is not a sign of a failing parent. Rather it’s the sign of a normal parent.
So what do you do when you and your ex can’t agree on important child rearing issues? After all, few things are more frustrating than trying to rid your child’s diet of red dye and having your ex give them M&Ms at every visit. Or when you think 7:30 is a good bedtime for a 6-year-old, but your ex thinks midnight is fine.
Many divorcing parents struggle with the fact that they can’t get their ex to see the importance of the rules they put in place for their children. “How do I make my ex understand that the rules need to be the same in both of our houses?” is something that we hear often. The truth is that, while stability and continuity are both good for children’s emotional stability and development, kids are very adaptable. So if you and your ex have differing rules in your separate homes, and dissimilar ways of dealing with discipline issues, your children aren’t going to be harmed as a result. What will be harmful to them is if you are openly critical of the way your ex parents them.
Children are easily affected by the things that their loved ones say and do, they are likely to struggle with guilt about how their other parent handles issues if you are very vocal in your displeasure about it. Another unfortunate side effect of criticizing your ex’s parenting style in front of your kids is that they are less likely to share information with you about their time there. If they know you disapprove, and will get angry about something that wasn’t their decision to begin with, they are more likely to keep secrets from you.
It is important that you speak to your ex about discipline and parenting concerns so that they know where you stand. It is equally important, however, that you address these issues in a respectful way. Don’t demean them, don’t tell them that they’re bad parents, and don’t be sarcastic or derisive when having these discussions. Simply state what you believe is right for your children, and why you think that way, and then leave it alone. You cannot change their mind for them.
However, if you share information in a respectful and open way, they are more likely to listen to you, and be willing to work with you on issues that are important. Finally, make a point of only discussing issues that are currently relevant, and issues that are actually important. Discussing every single little detail of how you think something should be handled, or having lengthy talks about things that happened long ago will sound like nagging. No one responds well to being nagged at, so keep it simple and relevant. That will go a long way towards helping you find common ground.
Join us next time for the next issue on our list of ways to make co parenting after divorce a more positive experience – Getting Professional Help