Dear Dr. Jann: I keep hearing that coParents should try to match their parenting styles and keep things consistent from house to house, but my ex and I have completely different life styles, not to mention parenting styles. What do we do? What’s good ex-etiquette?

Dr. Jann: If you agreed all the time, you and your ex would probably be together, so the fact that you’re different in your approach to life is not a surprise. This only becomes a problem when our kids go back and forth between homes. Then the differences can be quite confusing for our children.

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Years ago when parents ended a relationship, the most common parenting plan awarded was that the kids lived with mother and saw dad every other weekend. Most could just ignore their animosity for a few days here and there. Enter “joint custody” and all that changed. As a result, I often say that divorced parents have to be the best actors in the world because shared custody asks you to be super human. To do it right you must ignore the most base human emotions like anger, jealousy, frustration—just put it all aside and try to act like everything is ok.  It’s next to impossible if you are trying to do this on your own. There’s new incentive is that you realize if you don’t do it, your kids will be severely affected.  They will be scared psychologically, emotionally, and now we are finding ongoing conflict affects a young child’s brain development. Therefore, caring parents cannot afford to let all the anger and frustration rule their decisions.

That said, the key to dealing with different parenting styles is to openly cultivate good communication with your child’s other parent, not because you forgive them for whatever you feel they did, but because if you don’t your kids will be psychologically, emotionally, and mentally ill.  If your child comes home with a story about the other parent’s home that goes against your good judgment, remember the following:

  • You both have the right to ask the other about their reasoning for any decision they make for your child. Neither should be offended when they get the phone call.
  • You cannot control the other’s home. Keeping the other informed is good coParenting. Trying to control the other parent’s home environment is overstepping your bounds.
  • Cultivate trust. cul·ti·vate ˈkəltəˌvāt/ try to acquire or develop (a quality, sentiment, or skill). Example: “they cultivated an air of trust through better communication.” Different parenting styles will not damage your kids to any great extent if they know their parents trust each other’s judgment and will touch base if things are questionable.
  • Pick your battles. Leaving a 10-year-old alone when you run to the store is one thing. Leaving a 10-year-old home alone all night is dangerous and needs intervention.

Finally, the key to all this is: “Love your children more than you dislike the other parent.” Love is always at the root of the right decision. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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About Jann Blackstone

Jann BlackstoneDr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation and is often called the “Relationship Expert for Today’s Relationships” because of her “real life, down-to-earth” approach to relationship problem solving. She is the author of six books on divorce and parenting, the most popular, the Ex-etiquette series featuring Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation. She is also the author of the Ex-etiquette syndicated column and a frequent guest or consultant on television and radio talk shows, including Good Morning America (ABC), The Today Show (NBC), Keeping Kids Healthy (PBS), the Early Show (CBS), and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has been the featured expert in many magazines, including, Child, Parents, Parenting, Newsweek, Family Circle, More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, BRIDES, Woman’s Day, and Working Mother Magazine.

In 1999, Dr. Jann founded and became the first Director of Bonus Families®, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working to change the way society views stepfamilies by supplying up-to-date co-parenting information via its Web site, counseling, mediation, and a worldwide support group network. They prefer to use the word “bonus” to the word step. Step implies negative things; however, a “bonus” is a reward for a job well done. “Bonus…a step in the right direction.”