Parenting Issues After Divorce # 4: Discipline

Although parenting is a major commitment presenting a host of challenges for everyone who takes it on, divorced parents face a particular variety of  struggles unique to their situation. In this series, we are looking at some of the obstacles that co-parenting after divorce entails, and how to overcome them.


“But dad never grounds me for this long!”


Co-parenting means that you are still sharing the parenting duties with your children’s other parent, just as if you two were still married. But the difference is that you are no longer together, and you no longer have any influence over how they parent your kids. Which can be very hard.


This is particularly true when it comes to the issue of discipline. ‘Discipline’ comes from the Latin word ‘discipulus’, which means to teach, or instruct. Interestingly, it is the same root word that we draw ‘disciple’ from, which means someone who learns, or is taught. So in essence, to discipline a child means to teach them. Ideally, what you are teaching them is how to make the right choice, or behave in the right way, next time.


But there are many different ways to discipline a child, and not everyone agrees with all of them. Spanking, revocation of privileges, time out, grounding, additional chores (usually really gross ones), taking away beloved items…the list goes on and on. Which one is the right one for your child? And how do you get your ex to agree with you on what is correct and effective, and what’s abusive and cruel?


The truth is, you can’t. If your ex is using punishments that you believe are truly abusive, or put your child’s health at risk, we recommend that you contact the relevant authorities to report that. In most cases, co-parents who disagree on discipline methods tend to disagree on what they believe is most effective for the specific child in question. For example, grounding or taking away screen time is more effective for teenagers, while time outs and removing beloved items tends to work better on younger children.


If you and your ex can’t come to terms on what methods of discipline you believe is best for your children, you may want to consider seeking professional help. Talking to a therapist about what they recommend, or discussing options with your child’s counselor if they have one, may provide insights into what is most effective. Also, many parents will take advice from professionals that they would otherwise not accept from others. Sharing a therapist’s advice with your ex about suggested discipline ideas may be more impactful than telling them what you think is best.


If that doesn’t work, however, you may try sharing your experiences with your ex in a neutral and non-accusatory way. Telling them that you’ve had great results with Johnny’s attitude by enforcing a no screen time policy after rudeness, may help them see that there are effective alternatives to what they are doing. In addition, by sharing it as your experience and not as you telling them what to do, they may be more receptive to the information.


Join us next time as we wrap up this series on co-parenting issues after divorce with our final item – maintaining stability and predictability after divorce.