Co-Parenting: How to Deal With Differences of Opinion
You let your daughter stay up and read in bed until 9 p.m. Your ex-husband sticks to a strict 8 p.m. bedtime, no matter what. You only make one meal for the whole family, and if the kids don’t like it, they don’t eat. Yet you hear that at their dad’s house, they can have macaroni or chicken nuggets any day of the week. When it comes to being a parent, it seems like all day long you are making rules and trying to stick to them, but there’s also a lot of give and take. It’s one thing to parent together as a married couple, where you have a relationship built out of mutual love and respect and can hopefully negotiate the decisions together. But when you are parenting in two different households, the matter gets a little tougher to handle. And ultimately, conflict will arise. After all, as a wise man once told me, “If you guys agreed on all of these issues, you probably wouldn’t be divorced.”
There are basically two ways to handle differences of opinion when it comes to raising your children — you can either co-parent and try to make things the same at both houses, or you can stick to your guns on your own way of doing things and just reconcile yourself to the fact that it won’t be the same at the other house.
I’ve heard many people tell me as they’re in the midst of a separation that regardless of what is going on between them and their ex-spouse, they both want to keep the kids’ needs a priority. This is a noble effort, and maybe a big reason why some people end up staying married until the kids leave home. The key to making a true co-parenting situation work is maintaining strong lines of good communication. You need to be able to talk with your ex-spouse calmly and frequently. Know what issues you have a firm stance on, and be willing to compromise on others. Parenting is a fluid topic. You might have both agreed to a strict 8:00 bedtime when your child was in kindergarten, but now that she’s in third grade it might be time to revisit that rule and come up with a new time you both agree on.
Living with Differences
While every parent has their child’s health and well being as a top priority, the reality is that sometimes-divorced parents don’t have the best communication skills, or simply can’t find it in them to agree on parenting styles. In this case, it’s okay if things are different at each parent’s house. Just be sure you have a clear set of rules and expectations, and communicate them explicitly to your child. That way your child will know what is expected of him at your house, and can learn to behave appropriately. Remember, kids are pretty flexible creatures, and they’re already used to this situation to some degree. After all, there is one set of rules for behavior at school that are already different in some ways than home, and they move back and forth between those two places with relative ease.
It is also important that you do not make it seem like your rules or expectations are in any way better than those of your ex-spouse. Even if you sometimes feel that way, or disagree with how things are at the other household, it is important to let your child know that things are just different, not better or worse from one place to another.
Of course, if you feel that the rules and expectations at your ex-spouse’s home are putting the child at risk, then it is definitely a cause for communication, or even possibly intervention with a professional.
Just remember that your kids are looking up to you at all times. You are their biggest role model, and the example you set is what will follow them into their own parenting lives.
Karen Alley lives in the Triad, and is happy to be part of a blended family.