A few weeks ago, I had a reader write in looking for some fresh ideas of how to handle the frustrations of raising children between two parents who are not living together. More specifically, how to instill the values, character traits, and priorities that are important to one parent while these things may differ greatly from what the other parent sees as important. What does one parent who is trying to raise a child or children in a structured home with rules, expectations, and consequences do while the child also spends time with the other parent who doesn’t implement any of these things?
This is a great question, and although I am not in this specific situation, I was able to work through these questions with a few wise women who are living in a similar situation. Together, this is what we came up with.
The first two steps are meant to be the foundation on which the following steps will be built. These are intended for you to do alone as a parent, not involving your child. The other steps will all involve your child in some way.
- Identify the negative behavior or behaviors that your child is exhibiting and call it for what it is. Is it disrespect, disobedience, a lack of self-control, or something completely different? Maybe it is just acting out in a negative way that you can’t specifically name, but the idea is to recognize exactly what it is so you can work with it in the following steps. Maybe, your child is trying to punish you in some way, but in this step, you want to clearly define the misbehavior.
- Identify the emotion behind the behavior. Is your child feeling confused? Maybe they are feeling neglected, frustrated, or just plain angry.
Now, that you have identified the behavior as well as the emotion behind it, you can move forward in a productive way, armed with the following plan.
- Encourage your child to talk about what is bothering them. Ask them why they are doing whatever it is that you identified in #1 above. This is a time to listen to them, not a time to argue. Don’t disagree with them or try to point out anything in this step – this is just a time to listen and respect your child. They want to be heard. Listen.
- Encourage your child to identify the emotion that they feel is behind the behavior. Ask them how they feel, in general. Maybe you will have to give them some choices. Sometimes kids aren’t good at identifying emotions, but if you give them some relevant options, encourage them to label their emotion or emotions.
- Be clear in redefining what your expectations, rewards, and consequences are concerning their misbehavior. For instance, if they are refusing to complete any household tasks that you expect of them, redefine them with clear expectations and a concrete description of the rewards and consequences of how they choose to handle these expectations.
- Share openly with your child about what makes this particular behavior a challenge in your family and how it affects others. Do you have younger children who are witnessing this misbehavior? This is often something we forget to point out, but your older children model behavior, both good and bad, for their younger siblings.
- Establish a middle ground with your child. Do I mean roll over on your expectations? No. Do I mean compromise? Yes. As the parents you create rules and establish boundaries while developing the rewards and consequences, but you will do yourself a mighty big favor to have your child involved in this process in some way. Giving your child some piece of control in their lives in general, greatly helps to curb negative behavior.
- Offer an overabundance of unconditional and intentional love. When you think you’ve offered enough, offer some more. All parents can never give too much healthy love.
- Extend grace when possible. As a parent I find that at times I need to have a firm line drawn in the sand, but there are also times where offering grace is necessary. Does your child have a valid point? Have they been making progress and therefore deserve some grace? Are there certain battles you can simply choose not to fight? For instance, what about your child’s appearance is more vital to you to have control over – their hair color or their clothing in terms of immodest or modest dress? Do the activities they take part in matter as much as the people they hang around with do? These are the kinds of things that we can offer grace in.
- Give your child the invaluable gift of your time. This goes along with the unconditional love – you can’t ever give them too much. Establish a simple routine of spending time with your child every day. Can you spare 10 minutes? Every day? If yes, schedule it and follow it. This can be difficult at first just as adding anything into a crowded schedule can be, but just like any healthy habit, it can become routine.
Raising a child or children between two different homes is rarely easy, and most times it would be an understatement to call this situation a challenge. If you find yourself wondering how to reach your child in this environment, you are not alone, and there are things you can do to lessen the strain that raising children between two very different homes can present. Knowing exactly what you are dealing with and how to combat it by being intentional, loving, and gracious is key.
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