You and your spouse may have had disagreements over parenting while you were married but now you’re divorced, they may have you screaming, “Help! My ex has a very different parenting style than me.”
David was married for about twelve years and has been divorced now for over seven years. His children were aged 12, 7 and 3 at the time his marriage ended so those seven years have meant transitions through Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school and plenty of opportunities for disagreement with his ex. Here’s David:
When you change the family dynamic it’s hard on everyone. There were some nights where I would be getting calls from my children in tears asking me to come pick them up. I tried my best not to judge because I feel like it’s just really hard to change, however successful or unsuccessful a family is. To reform as a new family unit involves a lot of breaking things down and building new things and that takes time.
I know my ex would characterize our differences in parenting differently, but I would say that her philosophy is parent as friend and my philosophy is parent as parent. I’m the one that has enforced bedtimes. I’m the one who has chores that they are expected to do. I’m the one that has consequences if they don’t do things or if they do poorly in school. If they get in trouble in school, then they automatically can’t go play at a friend’s house or similar.
Which isn’t to say that it’s just madness and chaos at the other house, but just a general tendency. I think my kids have long since figured out that I’m the one that’s stricter and more consistent on enforcing what I say, which sometimes is a pain because in the heat of the moment you’ll say something like, “You’re grounded for the rest of your life,” and then you realize, “We need to go back and actually amend that particular statement.”
The most recent one that came up is to do with my 17 YO daughter wanting to travel out of state and spend a couple of days with a boy that she met and I continued to be adamantly against that. I think that’s highly inappropriate for a 17 year-old girl to travel unescorted. But her mom, without even talking to me first, not only said she thought that that was reasonable, but actually bought the plane ticket and then asked me if I supported the trip. My daughter, at that point, already knew that mom already bought the plane ticket. So, in my opinion, worst case scenario, that’s the kind of thing where it’s a set up for me to be the bad guy.
I’m still upset about the way that all played out because then my daughter got very upset with me for not saying, “yes” and I ended up saying that “I don’t need to justify myself to you and by the way, when you turn 18, you’re still not an autonomous adult either. You’re still in my home, you’re still my child, you still have to live within my rules. We still have to work together.”
One of the other things her mom has been saying is that “once you’re 18, you get to do what you want to do anyway,” and my comment on all of that was “Meanwhile someone has to buy the plane ticket.” This is not her getting in the car and driving down the road to visit her boyfriend.
It was not a pretty conversation and my daughter got very upset with me. My ex basically kept saying it’s between my daughter and I and that she, my ex, is out of the loop, she’s not part of this conversation. And I’m like, “Well, you bought the ticket, so clearly you are part of the conversation.”
Finally, and I have only had to do this like every two or three years, finally I actually brought our court-appointed mediator into the loop and said, “This is how all this is going to go and if you’re not going to respect me as the other parent, then we need to sit down with the mediator and talk through this issue.” My ex then turned around and said, “Well, I’m not going to meet with a mediator, but I’ve cancelled the ticket, so you work it out with your daughter.”
The Divorce Coach Says:
Differences in parenting styles don’t appear overnight. They likely existed long before divorce but they were kept in check by a willingness, either overtly or tacitly, to compromise with your spouse or a in a desire to present a united front to your kids.
Divorce often removes those motivations and so differences in parenting styles can easily become more pronounced. But different approaches are just that – different, not necessarily right, not necessarily wrong. I liken it to Republican versus Democrat.
However, with differences come difficulties and the greater the differences, then the more challenging it can be for all.
Children do adapt those differences and can cope very well. They’re exposed to lots of situations where rules and expectations differ such as teachers, team coaches and other extra-curricular activities. They still need time to adapt and that’s where having a consistent approach even if it is different helps. Personally, I think the exposure to different philosophies helps children develop their decision-making abilities and helps them set their own standards for behavior.
The bigger challenge can be between you and your ex. Here one thing is for certain: you cannot control your ex. You can try requesting that they modify their rules but don’t be surprised when they say no. So like David says, try to accept your spouse’s parenting style, try not to judge and ask to be treated the same way.
No parenting plan, no matter how good, can cover every situation that is going to come up so part of what’s underlying all the day-to-day parenting and adjusting to parenting after divorce is building your trust in each other so you can be assured that when the time comes, you will communicate with each other in the best interests of your children.
P.S. If you’re in the process of creating or modifying your parenting plan and would like a second opinion, please contact me. I’d be happy to review your plan for ambiguities and omissions.
CAUTION: If your ex’s parenting style is abusive either emotionally or physically you have an obligation to protect your child. This goes beyond a simple style difference. It is imperative that you talk with your attorney and/or your child protective services agency.
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