- 4 mins
Co-Parenting When You Have Different Parenting Styles
Summer holidays can be tricky. Our children might have time off for months, but that doesn’t mean we do. We need to continue with our busy schedules and also be sure our children are entertained, which sometimes feels like a full-time job. Of course, it’s fun to spend quality time with your child, but finding the time to do so can be stressful—and it’s okay to admit that! There is nothing wrong with acknowledging how tough a job parenting is sometimes.
Fortunately, there are strategies and tips that will help you work with your partner or ex-partner in co-parenting for the summer and creating consistent boundaries for your children. Whether you are still together and find co-parenting challenging or if you have an arrangement with your ex-partner and perhaps a 50/50 split with the children over the summer break, try implementing the following.
If children know the daily expectations, they have time to prepare for the transitions. A visual schedule includes daily tasks and activities that they can choose from. Your child can participate in this process—choosing when they want to do a bit of holiday homework, have free time, play outside, or help you with some chores. It is also important to schedule “quiet time” if possible, since parents, as mentioned earlier, most likely need to continue with work. My partner’s children stay with us over the summer holidays, and before they arrive I create a tentative visual schedule on a whiteboard. Then we can go through it together and adjust it as they see fit. The important thing here is that they understand there are “nonnegotiables,” which for us include bath time, getting ready for dinner, quiet time, and outside time.
Try not to give in to the temptation of bending the rules “because it’s summer.” If we let our child go to bed later than usual or if we don’t keep some routine, it will be tough to get back to those healthy habits when school starts again. Discuss this with your child’s co-parent and perhaps even have these arrangements in writing. When I work with parents, I usually ask them to write down what they believe will help their child during the summer breaks and what they are willing to do to support this. When we see our ideas and goals in writing, they can feel more doable. Another benefit to having things in writing is that you can always reference them if challenges or confusion with your co-parent arise.
Co-parenting with an ex-partner makes this concept a little trickier. Still, you can always create a “communication book” that goes from one household to another with some of the strategies that worked for you and that they can continue utilizing in their home with your children. If your partner lives with you and you are co-parenting in one household, discuss the importance of consistency. Our children might not remember each time we say “no” to a cookie before dinner, but they surely will remember that one time we cave. And this inconsistency might lead to the child thinking, “I just need to keep asking—it will happen again.”
And other than that, have fun! Summer is often a time to create extra special memories. According to McHale et al. (2004), co-parenting is like any other relationship—it can grow and become more functional with time. You are ultimately only in control of how you deal with and react to situations, but preparing and utilizing strategies for working and communicating with your co-parent will help maximize cooperation and minimize stress for both you and your children.
McHale, J. P., Kuersten-Hogan, R., & Rao, N. (2004). Growing points for coparenting theory and research. Journal of Adult Development, 11(3), 221–234.