If you’re a divorced parent, one of the most frustrating aspects of your situation for you (and your children) will be the back and forth shuffle between two homes. There’s no way around it. Visitation between parents is almost guaranteed; so, your children will spend time in two places, and you will alternate between either being without them or helping them to transition back to your home.
One thing for sure is that children benefit from consistency and routine. Children find comfort in knowing what to expect next and having clear cut expectations and guidelines to live within.
When a divorce occurs, consistency may be out the window. Some parents may succeed in agreeing to blanket bedtimes, rules, activities, and so on; but, most divorced parents do things their own way at their own home.
Often, what happens is that one home tends to be more structured with rules and routines, while the other home may be more lax and “free range.” Neither parenting style is necessarily better; but, it can prove stressful and confusing for kids to teeter totter between the two extremes.
Imagine being a child who is expected to go to bed at 8 pm one week, then allowed to stay up as late as they want the next. One week they are expected to sit down and complete homework before playing, and allowed to do whatever they wish the next. One week they have set chores, but the next have none.
A huge adjustment would need to occur each week to settle back into the climate of one home or another. By the time he or she is back into the groove of how one home works, it’s then time to go to the other home. Exhausting!
I found myself extremely frustrated by the differences I saw in my kids and step kids whenever they would return to my home. My kids were often out of their homework routine, and I would become angry when I would go through their school bags and discover that they had done little homework the previous week, or that they had done poorly because they didn’t have help.
In the beginning, I would get very angry with my ex about missing or undone work, poor diet and hygiene, and so on. I remember asking him on more than one occasion who was parenting my children while with him? I was upset because I felt that his parenting style diminished my children’s’ potential and was less than they deserved.
Similarly, my step kids often return from their mother’s home in angry moods with bad attitudes and with irritating habits such as fighting with each other, swearing, stealing, and so on. We spend about the first three days of their homecoming adjusting attitudes and reminding kids of where they are and what will and will not be tolerated in our home.
I lost sleep many nights worrying about kids, feeling deep remorse for putting them in a situation where they lived in a perpetual snow globe, and cursing the other parents for not providing a more ideal setting for them.
Finally, I realized that I had to surrender all of my fears and frustrations about how other people parent and what goes on in other people’s homes because, as much as we do feel the effects in our home, there is absolutely nothing that I can do to control what anyone else does!
No amount of sleep lost, arguing, or wishing for things to be different could change the way they parented or operated their homes. They have a right to go where they want, introduce whomever they want to the kids, discipline (or not) as they see fit, enforce rules (or not) as they wish, and occupy their time with the kids as they choose. I also have the right to do as I please in my home on my time.
Clearly the exes in my life believe that their methods of parenting are best and either don’t want to be bothered with the structure we have in place at our house, or they subscribe to a different parenting philosophy. Quite possibly, if our methods were in sync we might still be married; so, it’s no huge surprise that the disparity in thinking that contributed to divorce would still exist on the parenting front.
So, I now reside in the territory of “agree to disagree.” I can either drive myself mad with frustration because of factors I cannot now nor ever will have control over, or I can release my desire to control and have some faith.
I know that my children’s basic needs are met, that they are loved, and that they are safe whether with or away from me. If they weren’t, I would have to take further action. Because I know that they are “okay” while away from me, I do no one any good by torturing myself with worry or comparisons, arguing with other parents or stewing in frustration or resentment because that will just add to the drama that I wish to eliminate from my life.
Compatible or not as a married couple, I know that there is decency within my ex and he wants the best for our children. He may see a different game plan for how we will arrive at the parenting finish line; but, I have to rely on that decency within him, that I first loved about him, to guide his decisions.
It’s hard on me and it’s hard on them to ride the roller coaster from one week to the next, but I will just contribute to the disarray by allowing myself to become upset and carried away on the ride. I can serve myself and my kids best by being the calming presence that they can always return to. One thing they will always know is that I am here loving them, and they know what to expect of my home. I will help them regroup and re-adjust to achieve the most peace possible for their childhood.