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How best to handle the contradictions/different approaches to upbringing

One of the biggest problems I encounter when helping clients sever the marital contract, is that of trying to get my client to reach out to the other parent to get them to mediate how they will implement different “house” rules between the two residences as they share custody of the children. It is never easy to counsel parents on what rules should apply when it comes to two households/two parents, but I always emphasize how important it is that each parent try to communicate with the other side to find some common ground and work together. Such rules may include everything from food choices to bedtimes.

Too many contradictions with one’s ex in guidelines for co-parenting can mentally scar the child(ren) for life! What children most need as they try to modulate their parent’s divorce is a semblance of order, constancy, structure, and predictability. Children need peace of mind (to the extent to which they can get it) and if parents are at war and changing the house rules just to spite the other parent, that is only going to hurt the child(ren) in the long run.

My clients have enough conflicts to deal with, I believe, as they navigate through other divorce matters—issues like finances, division of property, and the potential sale of assets, including real property. The consideration of the children’s peace of mind, however, should be at the top of the “let’s-work-it-out” agenda. Children are already having to deal with a huge shift in their day-to-day lives; they don’t need more conflict and strife; parental differences. When the rules for do’s and don’ts in each household vastly differ, that can be confusing, frustrating and troublesome to them. With that in mind, parents should strive for unity as best they can, despite their disparate philosophies in raising and disciplining children.

The following are five suggestions on how to provide consistency from household to household for the sake of the children.

1. Meet and confer: The ideal scenario is to sit down together and lay out the rules both parents will honor in each of the households. It may be uncomfortable to meet in person, but a face-to-face get together is optimal. If the children are six-years-old or older, include them. They could be tiebreakers! For instance, if you have conflict over what bedtime should be, letting them weigh in may make them feel they have some control in what may otherwise be a contentious issue between you and your ex. If your husband says it should be 9 p.m. and you say “whenever,” it’s wise to pick a time you both can agree on and stick to that. (The theory of compromise works well here.) Keep in mind that as a parent, it is not about you, ever, it is about the child(ren) and what is best for them. Structure and continuity are two of the most important “necessities” for the minor children of divorce. Better to agree on “whenever” than to lay down rules that are so antithetical to your ex’s that the child becomes torn and confused as to what is appropriate and what is not. You can apply this to just about every category, from how much junk food should be allowed to which video games are suitable to what the limits are for dress. You may not have been able to stay married, but equal, or close to equal house rules, are one of the ways to show your child(ren) you have respect for your ex.

2. Take a parenting class: One parent may not know how to implement the compromise “statute” or perhaps both do not. There are wonderful classes offered through most family law courts. You also can ask your therapist or attorney for a referral for a workshop. Available parenting classes do not show bias to either parent, although many of them do point out some of the accepted norms for child rearing. Others courses coach parents on how to compromise and in what areas, while others are careful to point out the repercussions of what may happen to your children in the long run if the two of you impose antithetical rules in your respective households. For instance, you can’t tell your kids it’s okay to text at the dinner table if the other parent is trying to establish “quality time at the dinner table” by prohibiting all smartphone devices within a 50-foot range of the eating area. I personally prefer classes where the instructor provides illustrative examples of how children have been “damaged” by parents contradicting the other parent’s household rules and values. These anecdotes are real eye-openers, especially when parents are given a glimpse from the child(ren’s) point of view.

3. Confer with a mediator. Whether you want to involve a third party or not, sitting down with a respected family law mediator can be beneficial all the way around. He or she shows no bias, but instead that person will help you work through your differences—those rules that are so opposite—and offer suggestions on how to close the gap.

4. Give to Get: Being fixed and non-flexible can only cause you more frustration (don’t forget how your stubbornness can affect your kid(s)). Make a list of those house rules on which you are willing to bend versus those you feel adamantly about wanting to have in play at both households. For instance, if your ex urges your child to play violent video games and you abhor such practices, give him or her something in exchange. One example: Let him/her have his/her way with what your youngster(s) should be grounded for, in trade for having him/her support your “no-fly-zone” rule with video games. When you offer your ex something in exchange for what you feel strongly about in the way of a “rule,” you stand a much better chance of getting it. Though it can be hard, you do have to learn to give to get despite how vehemently you think and feel that your set of rules should be the set rules for each household.

5. Head to court: While I think this should be your last-ditch effort to bring some consistency and structure to your child(ren) who need a constant and predictable set of household rules, know that once you head to court you no longer have any control. Judges often surprise those who go before them with rulings one never expects. In the end, it is wiser to find someone who can assist you and your ex to lay out a set of agreed upon rules than to let a court make that determination.

When considering what the household rules should be, the first question you should always ask yourself is: What do these rules teach my child(ren)? The second question: What impact will contrary rules have on my child(ren)?

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