Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: When Parents Have Different Rules (page 2)
Consider these situations: Mom does not object to her sixteen-year-old daughter getting a belly button ring, but Dad threatens to pack the teen up and send her to a convent if she does. Eight-year-old Tommy can stay up to watch wrestling on weekend visitation with Dad, but Mom restricts Tommy's television, puts him to bed earlier than Dad, and will not permit him to watch people flinging each other around and dropping them on their heads.
There are three major problems parents create when they do not agree on a common set of rules or limitations on their children.
- Children will divide and conquer. Children of divorced parents have a natural tendency to divide and conquer, which they will develop with increasing expertise as time goes on. Soon your child will convince you that the other parent has given permission for things when she has not, and you will be raising a child who is growing up to lie and manipulate.
- Children choose leniency. When children encounter a choice that doesn't involve consulting either parent (for instance, "Should I smoke this joint?"), the child, having had an experience with one parent who is more lenient (it doesn't have to even be the same parent every time), will choose the less responsible option. That is because the child is accustomed to having a less responsible or strict option.
- Disobedience is reinforced. When children can "cancel" one rule from one parent with permission from another parent, children are reinforced for being disobedient. This ultimately makes it easier for them to be disobedient to both parents.
Imagine what you would do if you worked for two bosses, each of whom had equal power over you but for much of the time disagreed as to what your job responsibilities and expectations were. Assume that for all of your job tasks, one boss or the other would always require more work of you. It would not take long for you to figure out how to interact with those bosses in such a way as to keep your job but actually work as little as possible given the choices each would present. It would also be a very difficult environment for you to work in because you would always be annoyed at one of your bosses.
How to Agree on One Set of Rules
If there is an area of co-parenting that requires making concessions and really working with the co-parent, this is it. Even if you have only an ounce of patience with your co-parent, dedicate it here. Sit down with your co-parent (and, if necessary, a neutral third party) and have a comprehensive face-to-face discussion about behavioral dos and don'ts for your children. Know what you are going to discuss, make a list, and go through each item. Be prepared to compromise here and there for the sake of creating a well-defined list of rules and consequences. There is room for variation on things like bedtimes and curfews, as long as the variations are minor, like a 9:00 bedtime at one parent's home and an 8:30 bedtime at the other's.
- Do not allow behavior that you know the other parent disapproves of. If you feel that it is absolutely necessary to go against the co-parent, tell the co-parent first; don't let the child bring the news home.
- Do not encourage your child to bring pets or other living things home to the other parent's house without asking first.
- Both parents' rules can be similar (in other words, they don't have to be equal to the letter), but they should be equivalently strict, or your children are going to learn how to take advantage of the differences.
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