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If you are divorced or separated, you may be faced with situations where your rules differ from the other parent regarding parenting styles and the rules in your home. Differences between parenting styles commonly become more apparent after separation. You are not alone! Even when parents are committed to co-parent amicably, there are likely to be differences. And if there is hurt or resentment between the parents, that can make it even harder. You both want the best for your child, but you may think about and do it differently. The best scenario is to work together to maintain a unified front and follow a cohesive set of rules that is healthy for your child, but sometimes that may not always be a viable option. Here are some strategies I share with my clients that they have found helpful.
Accept the Truth and Instill Accountability
The truth is you likely both want what’s best for your child; you simply have different ideas of how to get there. The truth also may be that your differing parenting styles were contributing to your marital tension. So why would you both agree now? And now with two separate households for your child, you certainly are not in control of what happens at your ex’s home. If you try to control it, your efforts may only add to any tension between you and your ex. (Of course, if you are concerned about abuse or neglect in the other parent’s home, you need to reach out to your local resources, such as child protective or crisis services.)
One suggestion is rather than you taking the control reigns, explain that your child is accountable or responsible for his behavior in your own home during the time they spend under your own roof. For example, if your child shifts the blame to someone else, say another sibling, you can point out that putting the blame on someone else is not acceptable and we are each responsible for our own actions. You can then provide an example where you were held responsible for your actions. (A work situation or when you were in school can be a good one!)
Do Not Engage in a Power Struggle
Lets call a spade a spade: Power struggles never create the change you desire. We know it, but sometimes can’t help ourselves, especially as parents. Remember, just because your child invites you into an argument, it doesn’t mean you have to engage. It is up to you to resist that temptation to argue, yell, or otherwise defend your rules. Sometimes your child may express he or she likes the rules better at the other parent’s home. Responding as calmly as you can, communicate to your child that he or she may not like the rules and have their own feelings about them, but he or she simply has to respect them. They can share their feelings about it and you will make sure they are heard, but it does not change the expectations you have for your household.
Creating Consequences and Sticking to Them
It is tempting for many parents, especially in the heat of frustration and anger, to impose a forever punishment – remove everything from a child, down to the door on their room or books read for “fun” and then not stick to it. Sticking to consequences which are so expensive are not only difficult to maintain, but also simply ineffective. Your child eventually, as you may have found, will find other ways to enjoy those things without your consent, which only creates lies and deceit. You might also think that taking everything away will teach your child a lesson; but adolescent minds just don’t work that way. You can begin to have more authority in your own home without taking everything away forever AND without giving in. Designing a clear consequence tied to the specific unaccepted behavior creates accountability. Communicating the rule and the consequence of breaking the rule in advance makes room for your child to understand what your expectations are and what it means to disrespect them.
One Behavior at a Time & Positive Reinforcement
As far as rules and consequences go, don’t attempt to tackle every single behavior at once. It is exhausting for you and overwhelming for your child. Prioritize the ground rules. You could start with no substance abuse, being honest and truthful and add one or two others, such as rules around curfews, friends coming to visit when you are not home or homework. Once you have seen improvement with one rule, you can move to the next behavior on your list. Positive reinforcement in an age-appropriate fashion when positive behavior is repeated can also help to maintain such behavior. Let’s be honest, we all want some positive reinforcement when we make a change for the better and expressing that to your child can be healthy if done appropriately.
Lead by Example
Teaching and living by example can be the most powerful and hardest parenting tool. Adolescents often look for behavioral models even though they may never admit it or you may not notice it! You have a great opportunity to role model how to handle disagreements or frustrations with your child and the other parent. No matter how the other parent behaves or what the rules are in his or her household, you have power over your own behaviors and reactions and control only what occurs in your own home.
Like all parents, I hope to accomplish everything I outlined here. We always hope to be the best parent we can be, but it is not easy! Keeping these in mind is the first step. I also advocate customizing these approaches to what fits the unique needs and situations in your family. It is all a journey, but we keep learning and figuring it out!