What to Do When Mom and Dad Have Different Parenting Styles

Divorced or coupled, parents sometimes differ in parenting philosophies and styles, a topic few may discuss when dating. When a couple breaks up and kids live between two households, the issue is magnified.
07/06/2015 01:59 pm ET Updated Jul 03, 2016

Divorced or coupled, parents sometimes differ in parenting philosophies and styles, a topic few may discuss when dating. When a couple breaks up and kids live between two households, the issue is magnified.

How can parents handle vastly different parenting styles, whether dad allows kids to eat chips and drink soda before dinner or mom says 8 pm is lights out?

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Stacy Kaiser, Editor at Large of Live Happy Magazine, says it's important to get common ground on big issues like drug use, curfew, grades, and school attendance. Try to get as close as possible, which may require compromise.

Couples in different households need to establish that there are two sets of house rules. Kaiser advises educating kids about choices. If the other parent consistently feeds kids junk food, try to enforce a better choice at your home. State differences in a matter of fact rather than critical way. "Daddy may not mind if you do homework in front of the TV but it's better to find a quiet place." Kaiser suggests being honest with kids and training them to make good choices.

Empower older kids. You have the opportunity to give kids skills to go to different places with different rules and to take care of themselves, whether at a friend's house, at a job, or in college.

Provide kids with safety rules. "One of the strengths that comes from being a child of divorce is that kids have to learn certain skills such as resilience," says Kaiser.

When one parents does what Kaiser calls "extreme parenting," kids will gravitate towards the parent who is not like that. As kids get enter teen years, they naturally want some independence. If you are the more authoritarian parent and your ex is not, the teen will have a tendency to want to spend more time with the parent who gives him or her more freedom. Parents need to strike a balance between wanting to have appropriate rules without smothering kids.

For kids ten and younger, you may need to keep reminding them the rules are different at mommy's and daddy's, an explanation older kids may not need. With younger children, Kaiser suggests telling kids, "At my house, things are different and when you're with me, you need to follow my rules." Remind kids of the things you do together that are special and unique that they may not do at the other parent's house.

Kids will learn to navigate the differences if you give them as much coaching as possible. Kaiser says, "We are not raising children; we are raising adults." Kids are ultimately better off when they are immersed in adjusting to different situations.