It’s tough for a child to experience divorce. A child’s world has been turned upside down and they no longer know the “rules.” Talk with your child. Explain that you love them; and mommy and daddy’s divorce has nothing to do with that love- they will always be your child.
Also talk about time at your ex-spouses house. Explain that it’s O.K. to have a good time at both houses. You can encourage them to talk to you about their time with your ex.
Talk with your ex too. Remind him or her that it’s best for your child to not hear negative talk from either mom or dad about their ex-spouse. Children shouldn’t have to decide between mom and dad. Also ask if anything negative is happening over at their house. I know it’s hard to co-parent when you’re divorced, but put any negative thoughts aside and focus on what’s best for your child.
Your particular situation sounds like a really tough one. Children in the best of circumstances are no picnic but it sounds like the adjustment to your family situation is making your child’s situation even trickier than most.
I don’t know what your relationship with your ex is, but if you can do it, I think conversations with them are probably the right place to start. Kids thrive on consistency so if things like rules, expected behavior, even meals and bedtime routines, are really different between the two houses, it could be enough to throw them off like this. If you two can find ways to co-parent effectively it will really help your child. Try to come to agreement about what’s expected of them in BOTH houses, what the rewards will be when they behave as expected and what the consequences will be if they don’t. Make sure things are as close to the same as possible in both houses (bed time is a great example). If either of you are being too lenient to try to make the child “like you more” you’re not doing them any favors in the long run.
There are lots of great co-parenting resources on the web. We have this article about the benefits of taking co-parenting classes (http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Co_Parenting_Divorce/). If you do a web search on co-parenting you’ll find lots more.
If you and your ex spouse absolutely can’t work together to have things be consistent between your houses, then the best you can do is make sure you’re really consistent in your own house. You may have to talk to your child about it and say something like “I know that’s allowed at Mommy’s/ Daddy’s house but it’s not okay to do here. I know that’s hard to understand but that’s the way it is.” Do your best to stick to routines and have consistent rewards/consequences for their behavior. If you’re more “strict” then your ex they’ll probably continue to act out like this for a while. If you stick with it, eventually they’ll appreciate that they know what’s expected of them and their behavior will improve. Kid’s this age really do want to do what’s right and they need your support in learning how.
Credit:Shirley Cress Dudley, MA LPC
Founder of The Blended and Step Family Resource Center