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Discipline And The Split HouseholdBy: Thomas Hoerner

My father was married for 49 years before my mother passed away. He never had to deal with disciplining a child between two different homes, or enforcing a restriction when his children went to visit Mom. Nor did he have to enforce discipline during his visitation periods as a non-custodial parent or have to deal with a child filled with resentment and anger from an ugly divorce. I had to learn these lessons the hard way.

One hopes that a father's selection of his children's mother was someone who shares his values. If Mom and Dad want Junior to do well in school, it will be much easier to work out solutions to behavior problems concerning grades. However, if Mom thinks her daughter should be allowed to smoke at age 14 and Dad disagrees, there will be much conflict.

I remember my parents occasionally disagreeing on discipline. The chances of two parents from any household agreeing on house rules, family values, discipline procedures and punishments are not great. So expecting to have a completely agreeable and workable co-parenting relationship regarding discipline is highly unrealistic. A custodial father who expects his children to follow his rules in Mom's house during visitation periods, or who plans on being unsupportive of a custodial parent by foregoing necessary discipline, is setting himself up for a great disappointment.

Exchanging periods of custody can be challenging when trying to enforce a child's restrictions, and can often lead to a punishment that goes unenforced in the other home. The easiest way around this is allowing punishments to finish before children visit Mom. This way children and Mom are able to enjoy their time together. If this is not possible, inform Mom of the circumstances that led to the punishment and what restriction was used as a penalty. Then ask for her support by implementing a restriction that she feels is appropriate and enforceable.

But just because a punishment fits one household, doesn't mean the same restriction will suit the other. For instance, if I restrict one of my children from the Internet and Mom doesn't have a computer, there isn't much of a punishment. Or, if I move bedtime to 8:00 p.m. and Mom doesn't finish homework and dinner until 8:30, the punishment is unenforceable and worthless.

However, Mom may find other means of punishment that are more suited to her household. It is important to allow non-custodial parents to be parents in their own home. And of course, the same holds true when roles are reversed.

Another situation my father missed was putting children on restriction with punishments that wouldn't punish him. If Dad said there was no TV after dinner and bedtime was at eight, he didn't have to be there to enforce the penalty. Mom was around to help. Some of my favorite hands-off punishments are:

  • Restrictions-Take away favorite toys, video games and privileges.
  • Writing-Have a child write spelling words, homework, the dictionary or a story on his punishment.
  • Doing chores-My house is always cleanest when my kids have misbehaved! I use vacuuming, cleaning, cutting the grass, washing the car or dishes, or a variety of other domestic chores as punishments.

As single parents, we sometimes find it easier to allow our children to go unpunished for inappropriate behavior because we don't want to risk re-igniting hatred or anger carried over from the family separation. But a single parent must discipline his children and make them know the consequences of their inappropriate actions. Disciplining a child as a single parent can also help strengthen the co-parent relationship by not sending spoiled brats back to the custodial parent to correct. (And, of course, the same holds true when roles are reversed.)

The above is from The Ultimate Survival Guide for the Single Father, by Thomas Hoerner. Copyright (c) 2001 Harbinger Press. Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved.

My child's mother brought my daughter to me and literally disappeared for approximately 3 whole years! Attempts to contact the mother by emails, phone calls, text messages, social media, family and friends yielded nothing. I then contacted Fathers For Equal Rights for help. Within a week we were in court and signing papers.
  -- Sefu A. - Dallas, TX

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