Expecting your ex to follow the exact same parenting rules as you is unrealistic but when you’re the disciplinarian and they’re the fun parent, you could be left wondering, “How do I cope with my ex’s no rules parenting?”
David has been divorced now for over seven years and his three children are now aged seventeen, fourteen and ten. Over the years he’s become quite adept at handling the differences in parenting between him and his ex especially since he’s seen as the stricter one. Here’s David:
I could tell that my ex’s no rules approach didn’t work well because kids have different behavior when they’re not getting enough sleep and my kids were definitely exhibiting those sort of behavioral traits.
They’d tell me about life at her house too. I’d say “Alright, it’s time for bed.” And they’d respond “Gosh at mom’s house we can stay up until 11 p.m. or go to bed whenever we’re tired. Mom doesn’t care when we go to sleep. She just wants us to go to the bedroom, so I can stay up super late and read,” and things like that. I’d just say “Well, that’s not how it works in my house.”
Over time at various moments they have expressed their appreciation for the structure at my house, but again, I don’t see parenting as a popularity contest, so I don’t, at some level really care if they like it.
I have read enough child development books and talked to enough counselors and therapists to know that structure is critical to the mental health of a child and kids need their parents to create structure for them. That’s part of what we do, particularly when they’re younger. To say to a six year old, “Go to sleep when you want,” is kind of a disaster waiting to happen.
There was definitely a period of years when it just basically sucked, when it was like every time they’d come back to me, they would have forgotten that, for example, you need to be respectful to a parent. They would just be really rude to me and I’d call them on it and they’d just roll their eyes or sigh or walk away. But it’s just like every sitcom on TV, kids in modern culture apparently are supposed to be sarcastic little snots and then you just cue the laugh track every time they say or do something rude to their parents. That’s less so since my ex remarried, so I don’t feel like we’re in that anymore.
I try to keep a sense of humor and I talk to people. I have, at various times, worked with a therapist on stuff too. I haven’t felt the need to work with him for years, but I feel like there’s only so much any one person can do. I talk to my sister, I talk to my dad. I have other fathers I compare notes with. I’m in a couple of fathers groups and that’s really beneficial. Every so often one of the dads will post something about, “Here’s what just happened. Am I wrong or should I actually be going insane?”
That’s one nice thing about the Internet, you can find those support groups much more easily than would be the case if you’re just looking for some group that meets at the basement of the local church.
The Divorce Coach Says:
Having your children challenge your parenting approach is not a bad thing. It can lead to you becoming a better parent if you take those challenges as an opportunity to evaluate your approach and apply your rules consistently.
Rather than responding to your kids with a “Because I said so,” or a “This is my house and I set the rules” open the door for a discussion about your rationale. Are you able to explain for example, why you feel it’s important to do chores, to have a specific bedtime, or why limiting screen time is beneficial?
This helps your children understand the basis of your approach and it may give you an opportunity to teach your values and morals. Perhaps more importantly, you are giving your children some criteria to use in their own decision-making for those times when you won’t be around to tell them what to do or to guide them when their feeling under pressure from their peers.
Being the ‘other parent’ to a Disneyland Mom or Dad can absolutely be a challenge. Like David says, it can really suck but it doesn’t mean you have to change your parenting approach. Parenting after divorce is not a competition.
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