Parenting is such a hard job even before you throw in trying to parent between two homes. Children react so differently to separation and divorce, that it is sometimes hard for parents to remain consistent in enforcing rules and consequences when everyone is adjusting to a new family dynamic. However, experts agree that consistent discipline after divorce, no matter how many homes the children may shuttle between, is the best way to help them cope successfully. Here are some tips to help implement this in your home:
Think of discipline outside of the bounds of ‘punishment.'
Discipline is also defined as “to train someone to obey rules or a code of behavior.” That's almost the very definition of ‘parenting'. Our job as parents is to train up our children to be productive, well-mannered, respectable citizens. This job is almost impossible without some form of discipline and just like with everything else in a child's life (education, nutrition, exercise, medical care, etc.), if it is not consistent, we can only expect mediocre results, at best.
Consider creating a uniform Consequences Chart with your ex.
This may only work if you are on reasonable communication terms with your ex-spouse, but this one tool can go a long way to removing the temptation of your children to play one parent against the other. For example, agreeing that behavior such as lying, hitting, stealing, talking back, bad grades, not doing chores, etc. have very specific consequences that are easily implemented in both homes (such as time out, loss of video game privileges, loss of TV time, early bed time, etc.) will make it clear to children that both parents find certain behaviors unacceptable and the punishment for those behaviors will be exacted regardless of the child's location. When behaviors are punished, the parents should also notify the other parent of the child's actions and the punishment implemented, so that if an exchange of the child is imminent, the other parent can continue the punishment if necessary.
Resist the temptation to relax the rules after an exchange.
Sometimes there is a tendency to be a little lax in the rules and consequences when the child has just returned from the other home – resist this temptation. Your consistency in boundaries and rules may be the only consistency your child experiences in a home (especially in cases where one parent is a “disneyland parent” and the other isn't) and he or she needs it whenever he or she is with you. It is also much easier for the child to transition into the rules immediately, rather than slowly over some arbitrary amount of time that is probably dictated more by your level of patience that day than anything else. If your child resists with comments such as “But Mom lets me do it!”, simply respond calmly, yet firmly, with something like this: “When you are with your Mom, that behavior may be okay with her, but you know that it is against the rules in my house.” And, then impose the consequence is typically imposed for that misbehavior.
In the event you have a completely uncooperative ex, or just one who has admitted they are unable to say “no” or impose strict behavior standards and boundaries in their home, the tips above are still applicable and can be imposed at your home when your children are there. Some consistency is always better than none, and your children need direction in how to function in the real world from at least one parent. There is a lot of truth in the old saying that if children aren't brought up to respect their parents, they won't respect anyone. Hopefully, these tips illustrate how important it is to maintain consistency, even in the face of resistance from children and/or uncooperative exes.