When parents determine they can no longer live together due to problems, one or both make the decision to divorce or separate. This can be very challenging and frustrating because for one reason or another the parents cannot seem to be able to communicate.
Separated parents may take issue with each other if there are any differences in parenting style, expectations or structure. It is important for parents to establish some guidelines in areas of concern for their child, to prevent conflict, but with the understanding neither parent has the right to micromanage the other –This is what creates conflict. Areas that are often a concern between two home are bedtimes, curfews, social media, cell phones, discipline just to name a few.
Consistency in parenting styles, expectations and structure are helpful for children, but they are not strictly required. Even among families that are living together, there are often remarkable differences between the parents, yet the children are not harmed by the experience. Other evidence that children are not necessarily harmed by differences in style, expectations or structure comes by looking at the normal course of children’s lives in areas other than home life.
Over the course of life, especially in today’s world, a child will be subject to the care of alternate care providers, school teachers, baby sitters, daycares, coaches and instructors. A child learns to differentiate the styles, expectations and structures placed by all these different people and situations and thrive. Children learn to run during soccer, yet walk on the deck at the swimming pool. Whereas in one class he or she may be required to sit quietly, in another they may be allowed to ask questions directly of the teacher. Therefore, different teachers will impose a variety of expectations and children learn to differentiate between them and manage accordingly.
As parental differences become known, some parents may seek to use these differences as cause for limiting the other parent’s relationship, influence or time with the child or may seek to impose their style, expectations and structure, or way of doing things on the other parent. At times, one parent may inappropriately speak ill of the other parent to their child in regards to the differences, which is very unsuitable and does not teach a child anything positive.
Parents need to appreciate they can have different styles, expectations and structure, as does virtually every teacher have their own way of managing a classroom. As long as a parent’s behavior is not unruly or abusive and the child progresses developmentally appropriately. Different parental styles, expectations and structure can actually benefit the child as the child learns to adapt and manage a variety of situations.
With regard to child development, it is usually not parental differences that is harmful to children, but rather conflict between parents over their differences. Children can adapt to their parents’ differences but being drawn into their conflict is distressing and distracting.
Parents who are distressed over their differences are advised to determine if the differences are truly significant, or just annoying to themselves before raising objections. He or she should ask themselves a question “Is your concern child-focused or self-focused?”
If the child is distressed by parental differences and brings issue from one parent to the other, it can be advisable to redirect the child back to the other parent to discuss the issue directly, and not put yourself in the middle. In this process, the child will learn to communicate his or her concerns directly and the parents maintain a more appropriate boundary between themselves. This is in much the same way as one teacher wouldn’t take on the issues of another teacher, but would redirect the student to deal directly with the other teacher.
Given the opportunity most parents appreciate being able to manage their own relationship with their children without intrusion. If one parent looks unreasonable, it may be that they are just annoyed for having their style, expectations and structure dictated by the other parent.
Parents are advised to be certain parental differences are truly problematic, before discussing the issue with the other parent, do not assume anything. If difficulties continue, seek professional guidance from a life coach, a parenting coordinator or someone that has experience working with individuals raising a child in two separate homes, he or she can guide you through the process, help you identify what your concerns are and assist you in creating a plan to help alleviate the stress you are experiencing.
Kimberly S. Rogge-Rogers, is a Certified Divorce Coach and Parenting Coordinator. She specializes in Divorce mediation and Child-Centered Parenting Coordination for more information please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.