Two Households, Two Sets of Rules?

separate homes and rules for children

Co-parenting after divorce or separation can be difficult—especially when kids are allowed to act certain way at your house and then expected to adhere to a different set of rules when they are with their mom.

While you and your ex may have disagreements on topics ranging from bedtimes and religion to schooling and Internet use, it all comes down to what is best for your children. Regardless of your views and your ex-partner’s views, children need boundaries and consistent follow-through. Having two sets of very different rules can cause your children to experience confusion, frustration, and even resentment toward you and/or your former spouse. That is why it is crucial for both of you to set your differences aside and agree on a detailed co-parenting plan that includes rules that are to be regularly enforced at both of your homes. In addition to setting a good example for your children, you and your ex-wife will be providing a sense of stability for your children. It also reduces the urge for your children to play one parent against the other parent as well as the chances of you hearing, “…but mom lets me do it.”

Before meeting with your former spouse to discuss a co-parenting plan, make a list of rules you’d like to enforce while keeping your children’s best interests in mind. This may include rules to ensure your children’s emotional, psychological, social, and moral needs are being fulfilled. And they may cover rules for bedtimes, TV and Internet usage, curfews, homework, chores, meals/nutrition, and allowance. Prioritize the importance of these rules and notate which ones are flexible and which ones must stand. If your children are mature enough to understand the situation, include them in the process and ask for their opinions. Making your children part of the process will make them feel valued and more likely to adhere to the rules.

As your children grow older, you will need to adjust rules—such as making bedtime later or allowing a child to watch a movie rated PG-13—and to create new rules—such as adding a curfew. Just as with the first meeting with your ex-partner, make a list before you go and include your children.

If you’ve tried to create a set of rules, but your ex-wife isn’t receptive or loosely enforces rules, you can still provide a stable environment for your kids. Remember, while you can’t control or change what your ex does, you can always give your children a safe, stable, and secure place to live and thrive. Some parents may struggle with guilt by enforcing rules when the other parent does the complete opposite. But, if you find yourself feeling guilty or questioning whether or not you should enforce rules, remind yourself that the rules reinforce your children’s safety and well-being. While your kids may not understand that concept now, they will as they grow older and they will pass those same lessons and sense of responsibility onto their children.