Clearly defined rules and boundaries are the reason why some children from divorced families seem to adjust better than others. One of the challenges divorced parents face are rule differences between households. If not addressed, this leaves wiggle room for children to play parents against one another's household standards. Here are a few tips that can be used as foundational standards in both houses despite parenting style differences.
1. Make all extended family fully accessible. In Ten Rules for Post Divorce Parenting, Rachael Rose says that allowing children to maintain regular access to both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can contribute to a child's self-esteem, as well as their sense of security and belonging. For some, this means arranging times for visits, and if location is a challenge, having a landline that the child can use or a pre-paid cell phone with loved ones' names and numbers programmed in.
2. Make them aware of boundaries and differences. It's more than likely that your rules and your former spouse's rules won't be the same and your child will know this. "When they say, 'We don't do this at mommy/daddy's house' you can respond with 'That's how mommy/daddy does things. Here, we do things differently,'" says Rose. Be comfortable and calm in explaining rule difference, even if they pout or object. They will acclimate to it and accept the rule differences faster.
3. Don't Pay for the Guilt Trip. Children love to test the waters. When there are two households with differing rules, it becomes an opportunity to play one against the other for their benefit. A common fear, especially among non-custodial parents, is wasting precious visitation time with too much discipline and a fear of not being liked as much as the other parent. This is where imparting discipline benefits you both. "The key to discipline in any situation is consistency. Offer firm statements like, 'It's fine that you don't have to clean your room at your dad's house, but here we pick up our own toys.' You may be called the mean one, but try to remember that kids are always testing their limits. Your child will ultimately benefit from the security your rules provide," says Lynn Fredericks in Discipline after Divorce.
4. Keep the Peace (as Much as Possible). Find ways to get along in the presence of your children and never co-parent in front of them. And when you're alone with your children, speak no evil against the other parent. It's easy to throw a few jabs under your breath when talking to your children, but beware; in some places, this is viewed as parent alienation. This could be any comment that aims at causing the child to emotionally reject the other parent. Experts say: Don't speak poorly about your ex. "Badmouthing the ex will be internalized by the child because they are made up of both you and your ex," says David Pisarra, fathers' rights attorney at MensFamilyLaw.com and author of A Man's Guide To Child Custody. "What you say about the ex is what the child will react to, and also think about themselves." Keep in mind the old schoolyard saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all."
5. Remind Them That They're Loved. Children of divorce can internalize the fallout and blame themselves for the failed marriage. Reminding them that they have two parents who love them and who are concerned for their safety and well-being helps them to adjust to the change. Try reading The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman to discover your child's love language. Being able to communicate love in a way that they internalize it will strengthen your bond no matter if you're the primary care giver or the visiting parent.
Chris Jones is a regular contributor at Fredericksburg Parent. He co-parents a 7-year-old son whose love languages are gifts and physical touch.