One of the questions that inevitably comes up about co-parenting is how to deal with two homes, two rules. One of the benefits of a healthy co-parenting relationship with your ex is that it keeps the communication channels open for discussions about this. Here’s Terry talking about how she and her ex work this out:
My ex and I try to have the same rules at home and occasionally it can be challenging. It’s very rare that it is. They may vary a tiny bit, but not very much. We agree on the basics like, “yes, no, thank you, please, don’t talk back, if you’re asked to do something, you do it, do your homework without fuss.”
They like my son to come home and do his homework immediately, and I might let him come home, go outside and play for a half an hour and then do his homework, but either way he’s doing his homework early, so it’s not the exact same rule, but it’s very close. I let him go to bed at nine, they want him to go to bed at 8:30. That’s an example of where we don’t agree 100 percent, but before I told him 9 o’clock, I let my ex know that rule and made sure he was okay with that.
They’re allowed to play the same video games at both homes so there’s not a “you can’t play this game at my house because it’s rated M or whatever.” It’s the same thing with movies, if it’s pg-13 and lower, we don’t ask one another. We don’t let them see rated R movies, but if it were, we would probably ask the other parent first if they were okay with it, so it might be a little bit different, but not vastly different.
When my son was diagnosed with ADD, we had to decide whether to medicate or not. It wasn’t necessarily difficult to come to an agreement, we just both wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing for him, so there was a lot of talking involved with that. If his medication changes, dosage changes, all the little things that go into the ADD medication, we try to talk about it a lot before we decide. One area that I don’t agree with 100 percent is not giving him ADD medication in the summer. The goal is for him to focus and learn, so I have no trouble with giving it to him during the school year, and we still want him to learn to behave and some behavior modification, so we don’t give it to him during the weekends, but I thought summer was too long to go without anything, but his dad was really adamant on it, so I agreed because that was something he felt really strongly about.
We both compromise in different areas and there’s always a lot of talking involved. If I feel uncomfortable with something that’s happening, then I will give him a call without any problem, and the same thing, he would call me, no problem. My daughter is going to be thirteen in two months, so boy-girl parties have started. That was something I felt I needed to discuss with him first. It’s me dropping her off, me picking her up and it’s not all night, it’s not a sleepover, it’s just hanging out boy-girl. She didn’t want me to check with him, she was like,
“No, he’s never going to let me!”
and stormed up the stairs, but he was okay with it.
I just felt that was something I needed to ask before I let it happen.
The Divorce Coach Says
My first thought is that even the happiest of married couples have to deal with this issue and there are lots of households where different rules apply depending on which parent is on duty. Children adapt to different rules all the time – differences between the weekdays and weekends, different classroom rules for different teachers, different expectations at friends’ homes, different rules from coaches. So my own view is that having the same rules at both homes isn’t critically important.
It is much easier when you’re both pretty close in your rules but what do you do when you’re not and there’s no hope of you persuading your ex to see things your way? Another of my guests, Sara first had to learn that what her kids told her wasn’t necessarily the full picture and she had to trust her ex’s parenting decisions. She also learned that she couldn’t control her ex so she had to teach her children about making good decisions, about asking for healthy foods, saying no to R rated movies.
It’s gets more complicated when step-children are involved and it isn’t always pretty. Kristi believes house rules are house rules even if it means step-children not living with you.
What’s clear from Terry’s story is that communication and willingness to compromise on issues where one parent feels particularly strongly is important. Another key area for agreement is that children should not be allowed to use the different rules to play one parent off against the other. That means that each parent needs to accept and respect the rules of the other and there’s no using your rules to curry favor from your children at the expense of your ex.