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Discipline and house rules after divorce

One of the questions that often comes up after divorce is how discipline of the children will be handled in two households. Parents often do not have the same values, child-rearing philosophies, or approaches to discipline. This is true whether they are living together or apart. While together, they usually either moderate their views and approaches to accommodate the other parent, or one parent does most of the discipline (“Just wait until your father gets home”). In many cases, parents have different views on discipline, starting when their child is very young.


Consistency is important
Now that separation has occurred and the parents are living apart, they are (or see themselves) freer to “raise the children as I think they should have been raised all along.” In a few cases this can lead to pretty diverse views. More often, however, the parties understand the importance of consistency in child rearing and agree to work together to provide the needed consistency.

“Discipline” and “house rules” are two areas that require discussion. “House rules” are just that — rules or guidelines that parents use to give guidance to children and establish expectations for their behavior. Examples include: household chores, homework, laundry, bath schedules (if they are teenagers — trying to keep them out of the bathroom; if they are pre-teens trying to get them into the bathroom), acceptable language, driving, and dating rules. “Discipline” is what is required when children don’t comply with house rules.

The questions that arise from these issues revolve around whether there will be house rules; if so, will they be the same in both households? Will they be posted (written up and displayed) so there will be less confusion? If they are different for each household, will they be shared with the other parent? How often will they be adjusted, amended, or expanded? Additionally, and very importantly, will discipline follow the children or be kept within the household? What does this last question mean? Let’s say that it is Friday afternoon and your 7-year-old calls to you, “Mommy, come and see.” When you get to his room, you find the most beautiful rainbow you have ever seen� drawn in permanent magic marker across the door. Since he has made forays into inappropriate art in the past you say, “That’s it! I have had it. You are grounded for the weekend. No TV, no computer, and no phone.” Just then you hear “toot-toot, beep-beep,” and it’s your (soon-to-be) ex coming to pick up the child for their weekend together.

The question is, does the discipline follow the child to the other parent’s home, or wait until the child returns? There is no absolute “right” answer; however, it would be a good idea for the two of you to have an understanding in advance of how these situations will be handled.

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