Everybody wants to be the fun parent. But co-parenting after a divorce is not the time. It's a downer to have to maintain lots of structure, but it's a given your kids will need consistent and compassionate discipline more than ever once one parent moves out.
Not that they'll politely request it — instead, they'll just act out, according to the Supernanny UK blog.
"If their parents are having relationship problems or going through a separation, bad behavior can be kickstarted in children of all ages," Supernanny said. "But you can head off tantrums, aggression and backchat if you work as a team, despite your differences, and reach a compromise when it comes to discipline."
If you're already shaking your head and muttering, ‘Like that's going to happen,’ take a step back and see what you can do. You may be shocked in a few months to discover that not only can you and your co-parent work together in the best interest of the kid, you may be able to better parents than you ever were under the same roof.
How to get to this magical place? The Supernanny and other parenting experts have five helpful tips:
Create a shared list of core values.
Yes, you split up so you don't have to deal with each other anymore. But you'll always be connected through your children, and if you possibly can pull it off, you still need to present a united front.
"The key to effective discipline is to be consistent, so your kids will know you mean business and not be confused," noted Parents. "It's understandably difficult, therefore, for them to play by different rules in different homes. And it can be tough for you to be firm if you think they're having more fun or getting away with more when they're not with you."
Ideally, the two of you can make expectations clear to the kids with a single list of "house rules" that apply wherever they are, Supernanny advised. "It's important to be seen to be supporting each other, so make it clear that there will be a clear and consistent approach to discipline in both households and that if your child loses privileges because of bad behavior the other parent will follow through at their house."
Let go of the guilt, at least in this area.
Go ahead and feel bad about dropping your ex right after grad school or skipping his mom's funeral if you want. But don't let guilt over your kids now being part of a divorced household derail your discipline methods. Even though it may make your kids happy to blow off chores and homework to play video games at your place, don't go there. "Permitting that only encourages them to think that love means giving someone everything he wants," therapist Cheryl Erwin, coauthor of Positive Discipline for Single Parents, told Parents. "Having established rules, even if they're not popular, makes kids feel more secure."
Don't let your bitterness towards the other parent seep into the arrangement. Children don't need any negative remarks about their other parent as part of discipline, or at any other time, according to Good Therapy. This applies even if the other parent has been acting "less than lovely or trustworthy," says GT. And if you can't get a consistent playbook going with your ex, still stop your kids from trying to play you against each other by comparing your rules and his. "Nip this conversation in the bud by telling them matter-of-factly, 'That's the way it is here. Dad and I just have different opinions about certain things,'" Parents advised.
Leave the new mate out of the equation most of the time.
Especially if you've been lonely in the marriage or have an ex who wasn't there for the kids, it's tempting to engage a new love interest as a disciplinarian. But that strategy tends to backfire and you should avoid it. According to Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia, which develops programming aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect, children are especially vulnerable when their parents start to date again.
"They may become angry and aggressive. Some children wonder if they will still be loved if their parent finds a new partner. Make sure to ease your child's fears by showing and telling them how much you love them. Show an interest in everything they do," SCAN noted.
You shouldn't introduce a new love interest at all until you've made it through six months of dating exclusively, according to Good Therapy. And even once you get serious, "the most appropriate role for your boyfriend or girlfriend to have in your children's lives is that of loving witness," GT said. "In this role, your significant other can talk with, play with, and get to know your children."
Disciplining your children for you can have a rash of negative consequences on both your kids and the intimacy of your dating relationship, GT emphasized. "At least in the early stages, this person's role is to connect with your kids, not raise them to be responsible adults. Even if the other parent is absent or not exemplifying model behavior, it is important to avoid exporting parental responsibilities onto someone so new to the family."
Don't give in because you're tired. Particularly if you are the overburdened primary custodian after a divorce, it is so, so appealing to let it ride. "Because you don't want more conflict, it's tempting to avoid upsetting the children by asking them to do things they don't want to do," Erwin said. But that's a surefire way to shift the balance of power to your kids. Instead, revisit which boundaries of behavior make sense in your situation, from cleaning the kitchen to using appropriate language.
Convey your thinking at regular family meetings, Parents advised. It's still the thing to do if the "family" is you, a kindergartnerand an infant. Include ongoing conversations about how you can work together and elicit their ideas, too.