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Co-parents can help kids navigate different parenting, lifestyles

On Behalf of | Mar 14, 2024 | Family Law |

When couples separate and prepare to divorce, spouses often feel like they can finally live the way they want to after years or even decades of making concessions to their partner. That can lead to one or both of them having a very different lifestyle than when they were married. If those spouses have children that they’re co-parenting, moving back and forth between these divergent lifestyles can potentially be stressful and confusing.

On top of that, they may have to deal with two very different styles of parenting. Often in a marriage, one spouse’s parenting style dominates and the other simply goes along with it. One parent may have been the primary disciplinarian, for example, which can leave the other parent uncomfortable with taking on this role. Adjusting to life in two households when roles change can be challenging.

These differences in parenting and lifestyles can affect every part of a child’s life. However, they often revolve around the following:

  • Rules
  • Culture and religion
  • Homework and other school-related expectations
  • Screen time and electronics use
  • Diet

Generally, children adapt to things being different in their parents’ homes over time. As they get older, they learn to more easily adjust their behavior in different settings and around different people.

Finding common ground

It’s still important, however, for co-parents to try to set some common rules and expectations. For example, it can be important to agree that homework comes before computer games, and bedtime (at least on school nights) should be fairly consistent across homes. However, it might not be worth battling over whether your co-parent cooks meals or microwaves them as long as your child is eating in a reasonably healthy manner.

As for your differences, assuming your co-parent isn’t endangering your child’s health or safety, don’t tell your child that their other parent is doing things “wrong” or that somehow they don’t care about them as much if they have more lenient (or stricter) rules. A simple answer if they have questions – which can suffice under most, although not all, circumstances, is that you do things differently, but that they need to follow the rules of each household.

It’s a good idea to codify your shared expectations across your homes in your parenting plan. If there’s anything that either of you feel strongly about your co-parent not allowing, address those things also so that there are shared expectations, if not approaches. A well-crafted parenting plan, with modifications as your child gets older and other things change, can make co-parenting go more smoothly for you and your child.