Rules At Different Parent’s Homes Post Divorce

Rules At Different Parent’s Homes Post Divorce
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have
worked with children of all ages for over twenty years.
Usually parents drag their kids into my office complaining
of a litany of bad behaviors, ranging from not cleaning up
their rooms, to getting bad grades, hitting their siblings,
or worse, stealing, fighting or doing drugs. I work with
parents to change their children’s behavior. It is very
helpful for the parents to know their children’s experiences,
especially after a divorce. This and other articles address
what the child thinks about the divorce and how they
react, considering some fundamental needs.
This series of articles focuses on visitation between
separated parents.
It is very, very important to have the same rules at both
Mom’s and Dad’s house. In reality, this never happens, but try
anyway. This suggests that the divorced parents will try to
work together, which also almost never happens, but again, try
anyway. After all, as separated parents, the last thing parents
usually want to do is work with the “ex.” But the irony is that
under this kind of stress, your child, more than ever, needs the
parents to work together to help her or him cope with the divorce,
separation and the usually big changes that follow. It is a very
real tragedy that at this time parents are the least likely to work
together when the child most needs them to do just that.
Likewise, it is important to have common punishments or
consequences at and/or between the respective parents’ homes.
In other words, rewards and punishments should be as close to the
same in the two venues. This follows from trying to have
relatively the same rules between households. Again, this almost
never happens either, but try anyway. Occasionally two separated
parents actually put their differences aside enough to work together
in this limited way. In highly contentious communications between
ex’s, when the ex’s really dislike each other, this may be the only
area where one adult can communicate anything the other adult will
Parents working together is especially important when the child
acts up at one parent’s house just before leaving to “visit” the
other parent. Children do this on purpose to escape punishment,
because they know the receiving parent probably does not like the
dropping-off parent, and because the two parents do not want to
relate, the child will probably get away with the misbehavior.
Precisely because of this, there needs to be some form of
communication between the parents, despite their enmity. In the
above case, ideally, parents will communicate about their child’s
acting out and the consequences will have to be paid at the receiving
parent’s house. This does not happen much because the receiving
parent usually wants the child to have a happy experience at their
house and to not start the “visit” on a bad note. The receiving
parent also often has a hidden agenda to thwart the drop-off parent,
and so will not follow through with consequences, thus leaving the
drop-off parent to “deal with it,” later. This is passive
aggression by the receiving parent to the drop-off parent and it
teaches the child that manipulation really does work. Children
rapidly learn about this form of manipulating. The receiving
parent does not follow through so the child gets away with acting
After the visit and some time passing, the child returns to the
other parent. At that time, there is less likelihood the child will
actually be punished for behaviors that occurred in the past. These
are all bad ideas, bad behaviors and bad consequences for both parents
and the child. This is when a counselor is needed!

-Dr. Griggs

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