Where Does The Line Lie?

Last week, I overheard one woman tell another, “I’m having a hard time with him lately.  When he goes to his dad’s, it’s anything goes.  Then when he comes back to me he doesn’t listen and has a horrible attitude.  And I have to be the bad guy.”

This past weekend, I heard a father (different family entirely) say, “I get so little time with my kids.  I don’t want to spend it enforcing rules!  I want them to be carefree and have fun so they have happy memories of their visits with me.”

I clearly see both sides of this all-too-common scenario.  Mom feels like Dad is undermining her efforts to raise a respectful young man.  Dad doesn’t want to risk spoiling a few precious hours over a non-life-threatening infraction”.  Tempers flare as Mom asserts, “He needs structure!”  And Dad argues, “Let them have some fun!”  …And they’re both right.

This is why co-parent communication is so important.  If Mom and Dad don’t talk about behavioral issues and agree on certain boundaries, what messages do their children receive?  Is Mom “overbearing”?  Is Dad “irresponsible”?  Will they come to believe that Mom is the only rule-abiding person in the world (anything goes everywhere else)?  Will they eventually see their father as unworthy of respect because he doesn’t insist on respectful behavior?  (And if this is the case, will Dad assume that Mom is a poor/alienating parent because the kids’ behavior is out of control?)  Will they easily learn the ropes in their two homes and act accordingly?  Or will they get in more trouble with Mom because they have a hard time adjusting from “carefree” to “structure-and-consequences” in the minutes it takes to pickup/dropoff?  Will they feel so conflicted that they want to choose one parent over the other?

And the issue doesn’t end at Mom’s/Dad’s house.  What about the community within which the children interact? Yesterday, while relaxing on the beach, a hyper 6ish-year-old ran through our “camp” on more than one occasion.  As he gleefully kicked up sand, he trampled on our towels as well.  Upon returning to his own blanket, he was greeted by a smiling gentleman who had witnessed the boy’s disrespectful behavior and yet said nothing of it. As I brushed the sand off my reading material, I wondered if that was a divorced dad behind me.  At first I was angry, then sympathetic.  It’s only sand and water, I rationalized.  I’ll keep my comments to myself and let the boy and his father enjoy the holiday.

Guilty as charged:  I silently put another log on this fire.

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Posted in children of divorce, divorce, family and tagged , , , , .


  1. These dichotomies exist even within an “in tact” household (heh). My wife and I are still in the process of separating our household, and are still parenting as we have been all along. And she is still just as loathe to enforce rules/respectful behavior as ever, and I find myself just as required to be the enforcer as ever. This has always been the case (or at least, it’s always been our tendencies), and there’s no reason to expect too much to change once we have shared (equal) custody.

    In short: it’s a dilemma, yes, and a problem, yes, but it’s not unique to divorced households. And your reaction at the beach, well… is the situation really any different whether the father is a full-time or a part-time parent? I think, for the most part, the answer is: no.

    And truth be told, it’s a dilemma I wrestle with all the time. Is now the time to hold the line? Or should I take it easy and go with the flow? Should I just let my five-year-old be a five-year-old, or should I be enforcing the social norms? Those questions are always present, whether I’m with the kids at home, out in public, with my (soon to be ex) wife, or without her. And I’m sure she faces it, too. She’s not *always* a pushover, and I’m not *always* strict, but these are the roles we generally take on to ourselves, and that resulting tension will always be there… divorced or married.

    Of course… that’s just one (soon-to-be-divorced) dad’s opinion. 🙂

    • That’s true- the situation is not unique to divorced parents. (I’m currently recalling the childhood strategy, “Ask The Parent Who Will Say ‘Yes'”) Perphaps a separation exacerbates the issue, though. Many newly separated parents have concerns that they won’t be present to ‘oversee’ their co-parent. It’s a greater stressor when parenting time is not equally shared.

  2. In my case, my children are 12 and 15 and the issue is bedtime and computer time. If they had their way, the children would waste every afternoon and stay up all night playing games and watching videos. That’s exactly what their father allows them to do at his house. When I get them back after a weekend (every other weekend), they’re sleepless zombies and it takes days to get them back on their sleeping schedule.

    Back in January, their father and I agreed to limit internet time/video games to two hours on weekdays, four hours on weekends. I think that’s more than generous.

    They kids tell me that their father pays no attention to how long they play. They say he lets them sit around the house and stay up all night playing games and watching video. I didn’t know whether to believe them at first because of course they were arguing for me to go away and let them play as long as they liked. But my son and i share a Netflix queue, and I can tell just from the titles in the “Watched” list how much time he is spending glued to his computer…and that’s just one of the sites he likes to visit.

    Their father is like a big kid and hates any kind of structure. He gets up when he likes and goes to sleep when he likes. Meals are whenever. It’s his life, so that makes no difference to me. The problem is that I want to enforce limits on Internet time so that homework gets done and the kids aren’t falling asleep at school.

    Is that too much to ask? I think not.

    • Your request seems perfectly logical to me. And I imagine that, given the ages of your children, their dad feels it’s logical as well to allow maximum freedom. It’s hard to make a case for following the guidelines if the consequences aren’t dire enough for the other parent to respond.

      Does anyone have any positive examples or communication tactics to share here?

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