DIVORCED PARENTS AND CONFLICTING VALUES

DIVORCED PARENTS AND CONFLICTING VALUES
Written by Diane Chambers

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            “The stress of always having to be the sane parent is almost unbearable,” said Trina, a single parent of a twelve- and a ten-year-old. “I’m constantly having to counter balance my ex-husband’s negative example with something positive.Some days, I wonder if I can really do enough to make a difference.”

            Trina’s frustration is a common one among both single mothers and single fathers. By nature, single parents are wary of their ex-partner’s behavior patterns or they wouldn’t be single in the first place. Some are fortunate enough to have ex’s with similar moral values and parenting styles. But what happens when one parent doesn’t live up to the standards of the other? It can be a recipe for stress overload for the custodial parent, especially if the non-custodial one spends substantial time with the children.

            InTrina’s case, her children’s father was entertaining women overnight at his house while the children were there. In addition, he was leaving both children at home alone for extended periods of time during the weekend, sometimes coming home at 2:00 or 3:00 am visibly drunk. Trina had no proof other than what her daughter was telling her and each time she approached the subject with her ex-husband, he denied the allegations and they ended up opening old wounds. The girls also complained about his strict and unreasonable disciplinary tactics, yet when he bought them things or treated them nicely, they seemed to forget about all of his negative behavior. Trina felt as if she was on aroller-coaster ride, never knowing what he would do next and how she could continue to be a strong example for her daughters in spite of his behavior.

            Accordingto Bobbie Reed, author of Single MothersRaising Sons (Nelson 1988), when values are a natural part of our lives,our kids will notice.

                “As we act repeatedly and consistently upon our beliefs, our value systems become integral parts of our lives. We become skilled in those actions and feel good about ourselves in the process.”

She says there are three ways we can teach values to our kids: (1) know what your values are for yourself; (2) model thevalue system you ascribe to; and (3) discuss with your children your values andthe impact they have on your lives.

            Consistently teaching and modeling your own values can help counteract your feelings of fear or inadequacy when someone else has a significant influence on your kids. Being strong and consistent is not easy, however, and there are a few things you must remember to keep from getting off balance and out of control:

Know what you can control and what you can’t – unfortunately, part of the fallout of divorce is reconciling the two ideas that (1) your children deserve a relationship with the other parent (because they are, in fact, a part of that person); and that (2) you cannot control the choices another person makes – even those that affect your children. I always found myself repeating the prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Start there.

Be open and honest with your feelings – Of course, you must use age-appropriate messages and do everything you can not to encourage disrespect of the other parent. But, you can clearly state how you feel and that you disagree with behaviors that counter your value system. Also, be honest when you’ve made a mistake or have displayed inappropriate behavior.

Be matter-of-fact –the households in which kids thrive the most are those that deal with tough issues head-on and in a calm manner, avoiding over-dramatization. When something upsets you, wait a little while to work through your own feelings and then talk to your children about it with confidence and concern, not without-of-proportion anger or hurt. After all, if you get upset easily about an issue, your kids will not want to talk to you about it in the future. Maintaining your composure increases your “approachability,” which is the hallmark of parent-child communication.

You are not alone –Remember that even two-parent families are dealing with conflicting values inthe same household! You may have undivided opportunities to teach important values to your children that other parents in other situations lack. Feel good about that.

Accept that you are always learning and growing yourself – Reed says you should “learn to make decisions and then not to worry about whether or not you made the best decision.” Your kids are most likely to accept you and your beliefs when you are clearly making decisions out of love for them and within the boundaries of your own value system. When you can admit you are not perfect, you take the perfection pressure off of your kids, and the whole family can learn the importance of acceptance and forgiveness.

Seek professional help when needed – If you suspect the other parent is being physically or emotionally abusive, trust your instincts and get the proper authorities involved. If it is not a matter of abuse, but of conflicting values, do your best to balance with your own behavior, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes friends and family members who share your values can help reinforce your attitudes, but if your children, especially adolescents and teens, begin to display excessive anger or depression, seek the help of a professional counselor who specializes in dealing with children in your child’s age group. Sometimes the worst mistake single parents make is believing they can or should do it all alone.

                                                                      BIO: Diane Chambers is a divorce mediator in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of Solo Parenting: Raising Strong & Happy Families. To order a copy, call 1-800-544-8207.


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