How to Parent Your Kids Without Worrying About the Ex
Parenting across households is a big challenge many stepfamilies face. We can all get caught up in the belief that there has to be consistency in the rules, values and consequences between our kids' two homes.
The truth is, differences are ok. In fact, kids can actually benefit from their parent's differing perspectives around boundaries and rules. So what's the big deal? What makes parenting so difficult when kids move between two homes?
When my daughter Annika was 11 years old, my Ex purchased a cell phone for her. Unfortunately he neglected to give any limits or rules around her cell phone use. Mike and I didn't have much experience with kids and cell phones so we were pretty naive - but we soon learned that limits and rules around cell phones are absolutely necessary for kids.
Due to the absence of any real guidance, Annika got into all kinds of trouble with her cell phone.
In hindsight, there were a few misguided beliefs we held onto in this situation (and others) which led to some parenting decisions we later came to regret.
Here are three steadfast principles to help you conquer misguided beliefs and steer clear of hindsight regrets:
Misguided Beliefs and Steadfast Principles
Misguided Belief #1: "I don't have the authority to impose healthy limits around items that my Ex purchased."
Steadfast Principle: Your home is your domain.
Regardless of who purchased what — when it comes to your home, you have the authority to call the shots. When I reflect back on the cell phone situation with Annika I realize that I could have set healthy limits for her in our home.
For instance, we really didn't want her sleeping with her phone - it prevented her from getting restful sleep and it encouraged her to sneak out with friends when they'd text. If I had we set limits around her phone usage, Annika most likely would've objected since technically we didn't own her phone and her dad didn't give her any limitations.
At that point I could've offered her two options: she could leave the cell phone with her dad when she came to our house or she could bring her phone and follow our house rules. Unfortunately we didn't realize this early enough to make the necessary course corrections before Annika stumbled into trouble. Don't make this mistake! Remember that you have the authority to direct how your home operates.
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Misguided belief #2: "To make things easier for everyone, our house rules need to match what my Ex is doing in their home."
Steadfast Principle: Parenting decisions do NOT have to cross households.
If you and your Ex have a cooperative relationship and amicably agree on rules for the kids, that's great. But it's okay if house rules, expectations and limits are different in both homes. Kids are able to adapt to two sets of rules.
At school kids are required to do this every day when they switch classrooms and even when they're in the cafeteria and library. Each teacher has their own behavioral expectations and once kids are aware of the boundaries, they can easily adjust and respond appropriately.
You may have a strong focus on responsibility in your home, requiring kids to complete their assigned chores and clean up after themselves. Your ex may not have the same expectations in their home. Maybe they're more focused on holding kids accountable for using good manners and common courtesies.
Regardless of whose home they're in, all of these things are valuable and will certainly benefit your kids — just like learning different things from each of their teachers.
Here's another tip to help keep the peace between homes: Disciplinary decisions should not be made across households without express agreement. If you give your child a consequence while they're in your home, such as being grounded or losing a privilege, you can't expect your Ex to enforce this in their home. Now If they agree that your boundary should be held in their home, that's great. But remember that you can only control the parental decisions in your home.
Misguided belief #3: "We need to lower our standards to appease the kids - or they might try to reject our home and refuse to spend time with us."
Steadfast Principle: Don't allow fear or guilt to dictate parenting decisions
Sometimes parents feel insecure when parenting decisions need to be made - especially when a child is making comparisons with the other home or voicing complaints about your home. This often triggers fear and guilt which are toxic influencers that can distort and diminish your parental authority.
I spent way too much time stuck in fearful emotions that left me paralyzed and ineffective. Eventually, I realized that most (if not all) of my fears were rooted in insecurities and self-imposed pressures. When I finally stepped up to be the parent my daughter needed (by setting and holding boundaries in our home) none of my fears ever came to fruition.
The truth is that kids love their parents and want to stay connected to them — even when there's tension and complex family dynamics. In the long run, kids will appreciate the healthy boundaries you provided and they may even thank you for them someday - our daughter finally did!
When it comes to honoring your family's values and upholding the rules…stay the course! Kids need boundaries. Boundaries convey security and love to kids, even when they oppose them. Almost every child will show resistance toward rules and may attempt to guilt a parent into backing down. But, it's your job to hold firm and do what's best for them.
Don't let misguided beliefs unravel your best parenting intentions. Hold onto these steadfast principles and YOU WILL experience some big wins!
QUESTION: Which of these three misguided beliefs do you need to conquer? Leave a comment below…