Shared parenting is often hard. Parenting is a difficult job in the best of situations, but parenting with someone you used to love but may not even like anymore is far from the best situation.
Several moms have tearfully confided in me that they are reluctant to set rules in a shared parenting situation. They fear that their children will go live with their dad because they have more freedom at his house. Other moms have told me they worry they will lose their children because the dad’s house is more fun. However, a house with no rules is a slippery slope that is best to avoid. It is not always Dad’s house that is more fun; dads struggle with this too. But I hear more moms worrying about losing their children to the dad because he is more fun or he has fewer rules. (I have some ideas about why this is, but that is a post for another day.)
Fun is important, but so are rules. Children and teens need rules to feel secure. They need rules and guidelines to push against and develop an identities of their own. As they are maturing, they need to figure out whether or not they agree with Mom’s and Dad’s values and rules. As the posts #1 Rule and #2 Rule illustrate, a long list of rules is not needed, but some rules and guidelines are needed or life is chaos, and no one thrives in long-term chaos.
Common differences in shared parenting are expectations about meals, homework, and bedtime. I often hear stories about one parent who goes out to eat most of the time or has meals focused on “fun food” like frozen pizza, pizza rolls, and hot dogs. The other parent usually finds this frustrating if he/she is trying to encourage the children to eat healthy meals with lots of vegetables.
Parents also have different rules or expectations about technology. It is difficult when the rules are significantly different. This is related to use of time and often involves enforcing time to do homework.
Is it Possible You are Being Played?
It is important to remember that the rules at the other house may or may not be accurately reported by your child. Sometimes children report information in a way that gives them the best negotiating position. They may be telling the truth but sharing that truth in an edited form. Or they may be outright lying in order to get their way. Most children are smart enough to know when their parents are in conflict and how to use this to their advantage.
Can You Let It Go?
I agree it is common sense that children do better when they sleep enough, eat healthy meals, and spend sufficient time on homework. However, you have very little influence on the other parent’s home. If your influence was strong with the other parent, you two would probably still be together.
It is important to empathize with the other parent’s position because there are always at least three positions in any conflict: your position, the other person’s position, and someplace between those two positions that is likely to be the position closest to the truth. To minimize conflict and maximize cooperation, choose your battles carefully. If you do not like what the other parent is doing but it does not endanger your children, LET IT GO! I know this is easier said than done, but believe me, if it will not make a difference five or ten years from now, it does not make a difference now.
Could This Develop a Strength?
Children can adapt to different rules in different places. Rules at school are different than rules at home. This is an adult skill that we all learn. What is expected of us varies from environment to environment. Consistency is helpful, but not always possible. You are not living with the other parent because of some differences that you have in how you expect life to be, so it is not surprising that you will have different rules in your households. Be consistent in your own home and your children will adjust.
Remember, you can only control what you do and your home. If you do not like how the other parent runs their house, can you let it go? If this is a battle you must fight, consider the other person’s position and look for common ground. Hopefully you will both be involved in your child’s life until death parts you, so keep a long-term view. For more information on how to co-parent, my free mini ebook, How To Co-parent When You Can’t Live Together.
What has helped you deal with having different rules in your child’s two homes?