It makes sense that there would be some outstanding coParenting differences in parenting styles and approaches after a divorce.

If there was a synchronicity in your approaches to life it would be fair to say you might still be married.  Following your divorce these different styles still exist and may even intensify as the other dynamics of the divorce play out.  Extreme differences and transitioning can initially be confusing and even difficult to children.   Insight into why the differences exist allows us an understanding of the other parent and ideas about how to help your children thrive.

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Generally people parent as a result of the way they were parented and we can look to their family of origin for an understanding of what may have created a base of their parenting knowledge.   Each child has their own interpretation of things around them as they grow.  A child with an alcoholic parent may learn that this is how they cope with issues and they too turn to alcohol for coping, or they see damage due to this behavior and decide they will never touch it.   A child with a militant style parent may become that way or become conscious of parenting a different way.  If you are seeking insight into why they parent the way they do the answer is in their interpretation of their own childhood.

This does not mean that you may have even seen their style prior to your divorce.  A marriage creates another dynamic that alters parenting styles.  In the marriage one parent may have been the main caregiver and the other completely allowing that style to dominate.  Following a divorce may be the first time one parent actually sees the other parent’s style.  This causes frustrations as well because sometimes what those parents are doing now is what they wanted the parent to do during the marriage.  It’s important to understand that their parenting has changed because the dynamic has changed.

In conflicted relationships the differences in parenting may actually be an element of that conflict.  It may be a demonstration of a parent’s emotions around grief, fear or sometimes even happiness. Even if this is suspected as the reason for the differences our actions towards helping our children cope will remain the same.

There are four things you want to do to help your children thrive while coParenting:

  1. Reflect on your own belief system.  How did you imagine raising your children when you thought about having children?  Most likely you did not think about negotiating the sometimes difficult waters of coParenting as you raised them.  For your children to be happy and healthy now you accept that their other parent is a critical player and will help define who your children become.  What will your parenting look like with two different thought and belief systems?
  2. Look for the silver lining.   This is the opportunity for you to teach your children many valuable life lessons.  Different places have different rules and we have to follow the rules where ever we are.  We want to raise respectful, kind and responsible little people and sometimes we have to follow rules.  In the library we have to be quiet, in the museum we do not touch, when with dad we help with dishes and when with mom we do our homework before we play.  We want to honor those differences and teach them to as well.   As we do not get to make the rules of a museum we do not get to make the rules at the other parent’s house.
  3. Communication is key.   Allow open communication with your coParenting partner about what’s working well as well as troubles you might be running into about parenting.   Identify a problem and ask for the other parent what you can come up with together to help your child.  (ie. Sarah was sad today because she didn’t have hot lunch today at school and her classmates did.   First, I want to ask what you think about the hot lunch program, and if you are okay with her participating how you do want us to handle the ordering? )  Ask questions with genuine curiosity, positive language about you two being a team in your approach and their opinion about certain topics).  Also, be honest and real about your non negotiable (we all have them for our children).  You could say that you really want this for your child and offer to cover responsibilities for it to happen.
  4. In their words.   As your children grow it is important for them to understand that their feelings are important.   Encourage them to talk about the things that are important to them.  They will learn that they will not always get what they want but it’s important in becoming confident, independent little people.  Also, if the children are old enough and the relationship still has some sore spots parents are more likely to respond to their children.  Parents enjoy hearing about when their children are happy and if there is something they enjoy doing at one house the other parent is more likely to pick that up when they hear it from their kids.

Every experience we have in life helps us to learn and grow.   The more diverse the positive experiences the more we learn and the greater capacity for learning, especially at a young age for a child.   While we can talk to the other parent about those differences being too extreme, we can compromise to lessen the divide on our end and celebrate the differences with our child.

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About Colleen Rice

A contributor to coParenter, Colleen Rice is a coParenting Consultant from Alberta, Canada. She keeps busy with her full time job as a Supervisor for a Family Intervention Program, and owner of her own Divorce Support Company; Family Nexus inc. Colleen is a wife and mother to three, two of who she coParents with their father. Through career in Child Protection and personal experiences she has seen firsthand the detrimental effects of divorce on children. Colleen has developed programming to educate parents on how to co-parent in healthy ways so that children can grow healthy and have best outcomes. You can learn more about Healthy coParenting at myfamilynexus.com, on Twitter @mycoparenter and on a Facebook support group called Coparenting Collective.