Separated parents may take issue with each other if there are any differences
in parenting style, expectations or structure.
However, while consistency of parenting style, expectations and structure are
helpful they are not rigidly required. Even among intact families there can
be remarkable differences between the parents yet the children are not harmed
by the experience. Other evidence that children are not necessarily harmed by
differences in style, expectations or structure comes by looking at the normal
course of children’s lives in areas other than home life.
When not at home, children may be subject to the care of alternate care providers,
schoolteachers, baby sitters, coaches and instructors. Suffice it to say; virtually
all children learn to differentiate the styles, expectations and structures
imposed by all these different people and situations and thrive. Hence children
learn to run during soccer, yet walk on the deck at the swimming pool. Whereas
in one class they may be required to sit quietly, in another they may be allowed
to ask questions directly of the teacher. Therefore different teachers will
impose a variety of expectations and children learn to differentiate between
them and manage accordingly. The only way a problem would develop is if one
teacher demands of the children that they follow the same rules in the other
teacher’s class as their own.
As parental differences become known, some parents may seek to use these differences
as cause for limiting the other parent’s relationship, influence or time
with the child or may seek to impose their style, expectations and structure,
or way of doing things on the other parent.
Parents need to appreciate they can have different styles, expectations and
structure, as does virtually every teacher have their own way of managing a
classroom. Assuming a parent’s behaviour is not lawless or abusive and
the child progresses developmentally appropriately, different parental styles,
expectations and structure can actually benefit the child as the child learns
to adapt and manage a variety of situations.
With regard to child development, it is usually not parental differences that
is harmful to children, but rather conflict between parents over their differences.
Children can adapt to parents’ differences but being drawn into their
conflict is distressing and distracting.
Parents who are distressed over their differences are advised to determine
if the differences are truly significant or just irksome to themselves before
raising objections. If the child is perturbed by parental differences and brings
issue from one parent to the other, it can be advisable to redirect the child
back to the other parent to discuss the issue directly. In so doing, the child
learns to communicate their concerns directly and parents maintain a more appropriate
boundary between themselves. This is in much the same way as one teacher wouldn’t
take on the issues of another teacher, but would redirect the student to deal
directly with the other teacher.
Given the opportunity most parents appreciate being able to manage their own
relationship with their children without intrusion. If a parent looks unreasonable,
it may be that they are just annoyed for having their style, expectations and
structure dictated by the other parent. Parents are advised to be certain parental
differences are truly problematic before taking issue. If unsure, parents are
advised to consider obtaining guidance from a parenting expert with expertise
working with separated parents.