From the Archives: Coparenting and Setting Rules in Two Houses
I used to have a pretty good hold on what the kids were allowed to indulge in - or not. I admit that I'm not a strict parent, by any means, but I have my limits, and even though I can be a big softie when the kids are begging for some things, there are others that I am firm about.
Take soda, for example.
One day recently my daughter asked me if we had any orange soda. I looked at her, pretty shocked, actually, and said "No, you know we don't drink soda."
Now, wondering where on earth she would have had that, knowing that dad has always felt the same way about this particular subject that I have, I said "Where have you had orange soda before?"
"At (dad's girlfriend's) house!"
"Oh. Hmmm. Well, ok."
"Can we get some?????" She asks, while I'm wondering in the back of my head if I can possibly scold her father for this breach of our no-soda-as-long-as-we-can-control-it agreement.
"No, absolutely not. We don't drink soda in our house." And the answer I quickly come to in my head regarding my own internal debate is - no, I can't. Or at least I shouldn't.
Now, I get that there are probably a lot of parents that would say to this things like "consistency is key" or "they need to learn that rules are rules", or even "he needs to put your agreed upon rules first" and I get that side of it. But then I have to say to myself - yeah, it's just soda.
When we had to endure our state required, court mandated, two 3-hour long parenting classes, during the midst of our divorce (oh so fun), these are the only things I truly took away from our sessions, and have found them to not only be useful, but positive groundwork for other areas of coparenting...
1. You can't enforce rules at the other parent's house. You just can't. How are you going to possibly police that and get away with any sanity left? Much less actually enjoy your time to yourself, while the kids are at your ex's house? For me it's not worth the anxiety, unless safety is an issue. (In which case, now that I think about it, since summer is upon us I will probably be an anxiety case. Anyhow... I like to enjoy my time away from the kids (see my Taboo Topic: Upside to Divorce? post) And how can you enjoy your precious free time if you're constantly worried about whether or not your coparent is following your rules?
2. Don't let punishments cross house lines. It's out of your jurisdiction! If you and your ex can discuss a particular offense, and agree to hand down a verdict - and subsequent punishment - together, then that's great! More power to you, and congrats on a fantastic co-parenting job! But, on the other hand, if little Johnny pushed someone at school, and you've taken his tv time away for a week, don't expect your ex to comply if you haven't agreed upon it ahead of time. They may not agree with how you've handled it, and they have every right to disagree, and to handle it their own way at their place.
3. Let your coparent parent the way they need to parent. (say that fast three times) Nobody likes to be told how to handle their children, or to be constantly criticized for the parenting decisions that they make on a day-to-day basis. It's annoying enough when someone says casually that Suzie really shouldn't be having soda, but when your coparent is reaming you out for it then it can lead to much greater problems, and it really isn't worth it. Not to mention - hey, you're divorced! (or separated, etc) and that's probably for a pretty good reason. Not the least of which may have been that you had very different views on parenting. So let it be and control what you can control, which is what happens at your own house. Which brings me to.....
4. Set your own rules and stick by them, no matter what goes on at the other house. My boys go to bed at 7:30. I'm pretty sure that at dad's they go to bed at 8:00. In my opinion, is that enough sleep for them? Not really. But is it one of those things that I will to try enforce at his house, to the detriment of our (mostly) stellar co-parenting relationship? No, not really. I understand that their schedule at dad's is far far different than it is here, and if he needs an extra 1/2 hour to make it work for them, then that's fine by me. As long as they're not falling asleep in class ;) As long as the kids know that there are rules and that they need to live by them, then they have the stability they need. It's when there are no rules in place that there is most likely to be a problem.
So, even though I happen to be sort of disgusted by soda, it's still the #1 selling drink in America, and I realize I can't control what the kids consume everywhere they go. All I can do is teach them that I don't allow it here (for as long as I can hold out, at least), and then explain to them why I have that rule and hopefully teach them to make a good decision for themselves.
More importantly, I have to ask myself, how would I feel if my ex called me up and told me that we're not giving the kids ice cream and I have to enforce that rule? Or what if I told him that homework had to be done by 6:00 every night - or no tv? Either way, it seems like a breach of trust that you've (hopefully) established with your coparent.
And the upside to letting each other parent appropriately at their own house is that it's more peaceful for the kids. Do they have to learn different rules sometimes? Sure. But have you seen how many tricks there are to learn in Angry Birds? If they can store all of that useless information in their little noggins, then they can figure out which bedtime is where, and try to get out of it to the best of their ability. :)
So what's your take on rules for the kids? Do you follow the one-set-of-rules for both houses philosophy, or do you like a little bit of freedom allowed fir each coparent? Share your stories of what works and what doesn't for your two homes!