Practice As if Parenting
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Some parents feel badly about their separation in view of the kids and are
reluctant to follow through with expectations or alternately; they try to buy
their children’s affection with toys or favors.
These parents may think they are compensating for the child’s distress
over the separation, but they are really trying to assuage their own guilt.
While the kids may enjoy the shower of gifts and special liberties, this only
gives rise to self-righteousness – a sense of entitlement where they think
they can have whatever they want and rules don’t apply. Even though parental
separation may be distressful, it can be overcome. A developing sense of self-righteousness
can lead to selfish, self-centered, out of control children and can last a lifetime.
Parents are well advised to continue parenting on the as if principle. That
is to say, they parent as if they were still together – not separated.
The same rules, routines, limits and expectations apply; There are no special
favors and no purchasing of extra toys and games. If the children are distressed,
parents should talk with them and normalize their upset, not let them get away
with inappropriate behavior or compensate with inappropriate favors or gifts.
Even if one or other parent appears to not heed this advise, this is no reason
for both parents to let go of appropriate parenting. Kids need at least one
responsible parent who will teach right from wrong, set limits and routines
and won’t spoil the child with a shower of gifts.
If parents are concerned that their child will complain or use the difference
to manipulate them to grant favors as the other, these parents must still stand
their ground. The solution is not to run down the other parent for spoiling
the child, but rather to concentrate on being appropriate parents themselves.
Children, even in intact families try to pit one parent against the other.
So whether intact or separated, rules, routines, limits and expectations must
prevail. Over time the children learn there are different rules with each parent.
As long as you remain firm, they learn that you cannot be swayed and they behave
accordingly. Over time, they also learn to respect the parent that offers rules,
routines, limits and expectations as this provides for a more stable and predictable
environment that encourages healthy development.
If a child objects, you can ignore the objection and continue to parent as
if. Children’s protesting doesn’t make their demands right. If you
wouldn’t do something when you were in an intact family, then shouldn’t
do it just because you are separated. Parents must come to terms with the fact
that they only have control of themselves and their domicile. They do not have
control of the other parent or their domicile. As if parenting begins in one’s
Lastly, kids will naturally test limits and boundaries. This is true of intact
families and those where the parents are separated. So not all behavior is tied
to the separation. If the parents can communicate and cooperate, then set mutually
acceptable rules, routines, limits and expectations. If the parents cannot agree,
then you must treat behavior as an issue for your house only. Over time kids
do learn the different rules the parents have and adjust. There is no need to
discuss the difference between one house and the other. This keeps attention
mired in the separation and conflict. Rather, attention should be directed to
your time with your children and enjoyed and managed accordingly. Parent as
if. It will take the pressure off you and teach your children that we remain
bound by rules routines and expectations. If your child is having a difficult
time adjusting, consider talking with them and expressing feelings though discussion.
In so doing you can have children who learn to verbally express their feelings
and whose behavior remains acceptable.