You and your ex are not likely to have the same parenting style and in many cases, it won’t matter. Kids cope with different sets of rules all the time. Teachers at school have different rules, the rules at church may be different, team coaches have different rules and what behavior is allowed at Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts may again be different. If the rules are spelled out clearly, kids learn to adapt and behave accordingly.
When the different sets of rules are very different however, life isn’t so easy. My current guest, Sandy has three children who were aged eighteen, sixteen and thirteen at the time of her divorce. She and her ex had very different approaches to parenting and not only did that cause problems between her and her children, there were problems between the siblings. Here’s Sandy:
The older two were so frustrated with him. They saw the harm that it was doing to my youngest daughter and they would come to me. She was angry, she was demanding, she was a shopaholic, he was giving in to all of these demands and she was nasty.
She was cursing all the time and saying horrible things and they were feeling it too. She was doing the same thing to them.
They would plead with him. I didn’t have to say anything. They figured it out on their own and being in two separate homes, they got to see us as two different people. They were able to see the wisdom of what I was doing without me preaching or showing them, me verses him. I didn’t want to ever get to that kind of talk with them, but when they came to me with frustration, I would applaud them for being able to discern that, that it showed they had good boundaries, that they had good self-esteem, that they knew that self-esteem is built on responsibility, not on rescuing and enabling.
That’s really what the conversation was like. It wasn’t to bash him, but it was to say, “Good for you for recognizing this. This is a good sign.”
I appreciated that they went and tried to have those conversations with him and he couldn’t hear it. He really doesn’t get it.
When my youngest was 17, she chose to be with me so last year she spent from August until maybe a few weeks ago with me almost non-stop. She said, “I don’t like being in dad’s house. I like it better here. You have good rules, you really care about me.”
As easy as it was to get what she wanted, I think what happened in the end was that she knew certain things to ask him for and certain things to ask me for. I developed a very strict budget with her, because she was spending money like water. I gave her a budget and I said, “This is what you’re going to get at the beginning of the month. If your father wants to match this, fine, but I think it’s really important for you to learn how to spend your money.” She really appreciated that.
It’s not about asking him to be any different and it’s not about telling the children to choose one parent over the other. I think that if you are consistent and you try to be impeccable with your word and with your actions, they get to choose and I think they usually choose well.
It took a long time and it took a lot of strength on my part to stay consistent.
You have to just stay strong. And my daughter actually came to me and said, “Dad’s trying to buy me love. He’s trying to buy my love.” This came out this year. Every time he’d be near a Kosher restaurant, he’d say, “Do you want food?” They hadn’t seen each other all week and then he’d want to buy her the boots that she wants and get her teeth cleaned and get her hair done. And she’s like, “He can’t buy my love,” and I just keep my mouth shut.
The other piece in all this was she used to call me “cheap” a lot, because she was comparing homes and putting me down. One of the things that I’ve also been very meticulous about is not letting my kids disrespect me anymore. That was modeled in the house and I think that a lot of women deal with this when they get divorced. You have to train everybody to respect you.
It starts with learning to respect yourself first and then learning how to let your children know that it’s not OK to speak to you this way and that you understand that it got modeled in the home and they have every reason to have developed these kinds of bad habits, but let’s work on this now.
Instead of “cheap,” she now sees that I’m being responsible. I’ve trained her over the years that it’s not cheap, it’s frugal, it’s responsible. If I overspent, it would really be a bad thing and she now gets it. It took many years of this conversation, but I didn’t back down.
The other piece of this puzzle is that he has a girlfriend and he’s had her for four years. She has a daughter and they spend an inordinate amount of time with him to the point where my kids feel marginalized sometimes. I know the two girls do. That’s also been a wedge for my kids, where they don’t want to be there for the weekend because she’s always there with the kid. It’s actually been a blessing for me.
You see this with the “Rockstar” or “Disneyland” Parent. It can happen when one parent either has more financial resources or has a different financial philosophy and is willing to buy their child material goods that aren’t needed and buys them as a way to lavish attention on their child. It can also happen with a parent whose parenting time is at the weekends or over school breaks. Unfettered by school and homework demands, the parent becomes the fun parent and life with this parent is just one long vacation.
As much as you might wish your ex didn’t parent this way, you have to realize that you cannot control your ex nor can you make them change.
You have to focus on what you can control and that’s yourself.
It can be frustrating, and demoralizing to be seen as the disciplinarian, the one that enforces bedtimes, the one that makes sure homework gets done, the one that ensures commitments are kept and consequences exist. It’s hard work that takes conscious, deliberate, intentional decision-making and to Sandy’s point, it has to be done on a consistent basis.
It isn’t about getting your children to like you or to choose you over their other parent. It’s all about equipping your children with the life skills they’ll need when they’re adults.
I wish I could promise you that if you followed Sandy’s approach your kids would show gratitude and appreciation but we all know parenting doesn’t come with guarantees. You do it because you believe it’s what’s best for your kids. You do it to be the best parent you can be.
What helps you to focus on your parenting and not your ex’s?
Sandy Weiner is a dating coach at Last First Date where she blogs about dating and offers coaching services for completing your online dating profile. You can also sign up for her free report: Top 3 Mistakes Midlife Daters Make.
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