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.