I am a stepparent to three children who, as a result of their parents’ divorce, spend time at two different households. At times, this has been very difficult for everyone involved–at least in part because along with two households, also comes two ways of doing things. This is true for all blended and divorced families, regardless of how well you might get along. Once you’ve accepted that the other household or parent wouldn’t necessarily do things the way you would, you must take the important next step of finding a way to co-parent together. There is no magic formula and heaven. only. knows. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. Over time, however, I’ve realized that perhaps some of the biggest pitfalls in co-parenting can be avoided by following three basic ground rules:
1. Don’t talk negatively about the other, even if implied. Kids internalize that. Part of their identity is wrapped up in their parents, and no matter how much you might disagree with something that’s going on, you need to stay neutral. This is good for you and for the kids in the long-run!
2. Support the other parent’s discipline. This means you don’t question it, don’t make the child feel like the other parent was wrong or mean, and enforce it if it’s ongoing at your house (e.g. no video games, etc.). If you don’t, you will just be fostering an environment that might allow your child to manipulate the situation to get what he or she wants, rather than learning a principle. It might feel good to be your child’s confidant, but in the long-run, the child will respect your authority less and resent the other parent–a tragic combination. If you truly think the discipline is inappropriate, that should be addressed with the other parent–not your child.
3. Make it clear to the kids that there are certain things that are adult decisions that must be made together. Unless it’s something that is truly your call (where you go out to eat during your parenting time, whether the child can have a sleepover at a friend’s house during your parenting time, etc.), decisions that affect the other house in some way should be decided exclusively by the adults together. These decisions might include things such as where the kids go to school, whose house they will spend Christmas morning at, or whether the parenting time schedule can be changed to accommodate a family vacation.The standard response if your child inquires about these things should be, “Let me talk to Mommy/Daddy,” or “Mommy and Daddy will figure it out.” It might feel unnatural or wrong not to let the child “have a say,” but eventually, there will be a situation where this practice will places a burden on the child that he or she should not have to carry. Let the kids be kids and the adults do the adult-ing.
TRUST ME when I say that I know these things are easier said than done. I also know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to co-parenting, but if you try to keep the above principles in mind, I think you’ll be off to a good start for finding what works for you and the other parent(s) in your child’s life . . . and your child(ren) can only benefit from that.