Your ex did not fit as a life partner, that’s ok. Still, you are forever partners in parenting. You don’t have to agree on all, you only have to agree you are both committed to parenting together.
When You and Your Ex Have Different Parenting Styles
It is incredibly common for couples to have different parenting styles, whether they are still together or separated. Parenting is rarely easy or equal. If you and your ex have different parenting styles, pause and ask yourself: Do you both want the same thing for your child?
Typically, the answer here is yes. You and your ex both want the best for your child. You both want a child to feel good inside, behave well, be confident, well-adjusted, loving, and resilient. Acknowledge that even though you may be taking different approaches to reach your goal, your goal is actually THE SAME… and that’s a wonderful foundation to build upon.
Once you’ve acknowledged this, it becomes easier to avoid labeling one parent as “better” and the other as “worse”. Best to avoid these types of labels and comparisons, especially in front of your kids. Different is not better, not worse, just different. You can work with different.
While some things may be different in your ex’s home, it’s likely that the very essence of love and care is the same. Trusting in the other parent’s love for your child is essential. When you feel yourself getting caught up in all the differences of… bedtime, too much freedom, too much restriction, different routines, different eating habits, and so on… remind yourself of what is the same. The other parent is devoted to love and care for your child, to learn from their mistakes, to provide your child with a home and even, to prove to you they can do it.
I know it’s so hard, but the more you advocate for the other parent, the more stability you’re providing your child. Children trusting in their parents’ ability is one of the most important emotional infrastructures they need. Each time you support the other parent, at least outwardly, with kindness, empathy, and even forgiveness, know that what you are really doing is supporting your child’s well-being.
Let's Talk Transitions...
Transitions are challenging for any child and especially difficult for a child moving from one home to another. It’s also common for a child to display the impact of transitions more regularly in one home over the other, “acting out” more with one parent.
When your child has a tough time transitioning between homes and acts out in some way, know that this does not automatically imply that something “bad” happened in the other home, that they don’t want to be with you, or that there is something very “wrong” with your child.
Oftentimes, children moving between homes have a hard time transitioning simply because… transitions are hard and don’t feel good. Accept that these transitions impact your child emotionally and behaviorally, that it’s a “normal” part of any change, and that your child needs emotional support from you while they readjust. You know it’s coming, so you can prepare yourself. Avoid panic and questioning. Instead, focus on providing authentic comfort and understanding.
That can sound like this:
“I know it can sometimes take a little time to feel “at home” again when you’re here, that’s ok. You can take your time.”
Maintain your boundaries as needed, and at the same time, maintain your cool. You’re calm, composed, and empathetic.
“You can’t talk to me like that. (breathe) I know this feels tough right now, that’s ok sweetie. Take your time and help yourself feel a little better when you’re ready.”
Know that part of transitioning is “leaving” the other parent and missing them.
Divorce and Separation Are For Adults Only
Try your hardest to not involve your children in your separation, even your older tweens and teens. Often children want to know why, what happened, in an attempt to understand and sometimes to try and “fix”.
Here’s an idea of how you can respond:
“I know you really want to know what happened and why… I want to tell you that adults have problems that only adults can understand and fix. Sometimes, no matter how much we want to, we can’t explain these problems to children. Only adults can fix adult problems, sweetie. Children can’t, no matter how much they what to or try to. None of these problems are because of you or anything you did.”
Avoid questioning your children (or interrogating them) about what happens in the other parents’ home. Avoid talking negatively about the other parent. Regardless of what’s really going on behind the scenes, you want to present a united front as much as you can.
Let’s say your child comes to you and says: “Dad lets me eat as much ice cream as I want.” or “At mom’s, we don’t have a bedtime.” I know all the alarm bells are ringing inside… take a moment, breathe, try your best to stay calm and in control.
“Interesting… that sounds strange… I hear you… ok, dad/mom and I will discuss that next time we talk about you. And oh, btw, we always talk about you. That’s one of the ways we take care of you together.”
Talking To Your Kids...
All children of divorce wish for their parents to reunite. They often keep this desire hidden for fear of causing their parents pain, or not being understood.
Talk about this openly:
“I think you sometimes wish we would get back together. It must be hard to feel your wishes aren’t getting answered… I’m sorry that some things cannot happen the way we want them to.
I promise you that even though we don’t live together, we’re still a family.”
None of this is easy… it’s incredibly challenging. Still, it’s worth it. Childhood is temporary, but its impact is life-long. Working to overcome your emotions of anger, betrayal, failure, and animosity is not only important to both of you but incredibly important for your children.
Dr. Siggie Cohen is known as the “Child Whisperer” for her unparalleled depth of insight in working with children. For more than 35 years, she has worked extensively with thousands of children and families, first as a teacher and then as a child developmental specialist.
Dr. Siggie has a private practice, lectures, and teaches throughout the Los Angeles area. Her approach has proven successful in helping parents and teachers deepen their understanding of children’s behaviors, so they can support them through the entire range of emotional challenges, including behavioral difficulties, transitions, and trauma. She is also a mother of 3.