Divorce is devastating to families, particularly when it comes to the kids. So how do you tackle the delicate balance with your kids when your “ex” has different house rules? Family therapist Shauna Knox says keeping things in perspective can be the key to a successful after-marriage partnership. “Hopefully the one thing that you and your ex can agree on is that you both love your kids and for their sake can agree to co-parent,” she explains. While you and your ex may have issues, the welfare of your kids should come first and foremost. “It might help to see if the two of you could meet at a neutral place for the purpose of discussing the kids, or if that's not possible, see if communicating about it in a series of emails would work,” Knox advises.
Even in married couples someone might always seem to come out the “good” or the “bad” guy, but in situations of divorce these roles might seem amplified. “Sometimes the best you can say about the differences is that mom and dad do things differently. Period. 'When you are here this is the way we do it.' Resist the urge to point out that the other parent is wrong and needs to get a clue,” Knox urges. As a married parent myself I can attest to the fact that it can seem easy to point out the flaws of my spouse and come out the “winner.” But are you really doing service to the offspring who look up to both of you in these instances?
In situations when you can’t come to an agreement with an ex, Knox assures that involving a third party isn’t a cop-out and can actually accommodate a difficult situation. “Sometimes this is necessary, and absolutely should happen if the alternative is to not work together at all. Having kids doesn't give us the option of just walking away from each other and moving on. They are connected to both parents permanently, which means having a connection with the ex whether we like it or not, and needing to try and work together,” she says.
So mom says you have to do homework right after school and dad says you can do it after a couple hours of free time, how can we as parents allay the fears of our children and set the record straight with our exes? “The important thing is to communicate about the kids and try to come close to being on the same page (if not, in the same book) as much as possible. Realizing that divorce is disruptive enough to kids helps some, and also that having similar rules, routines, and expectations of their behavior will help them adjust to the all the other changes faster,” Knox explains.
It’s important to understand how divorce and change affect our children, this we can all agree on, including the expert(s). My final question for my expert on hand is how does divorce and two-household parenting exactly effect our kids and what can we do about it.? Fortunately for me Knox was able to answer intuitively and with helpful advice: “Kids know when parents don't agree or get along. In the younger years it is mainly confusing and the unpredictability is unsettling and can lead to anxiety issues. As they get older kids learn how to manipulate the parents and play them against each other in order to get what the kids want. While every kid does this to some degree, if allowed to maintain this for extended periods it can have serious negative effects on their overall development. It is important for any pair of parents to communicate about their children, so much more so for divorced parents since there is tons more room for misunderstanding and manipulation,” she says.
Bottom line: Whatever your issue(s) are with your ex don’t let them affect your or their relationship with your kids. Having two parents who love and care about them is much more important than having two combatants.