Whether you're parenting young children or teenagers, it is helpful to develop some routines which remain consistent at each residence. Keep in mind, though, that this does not mean that each of you must parent exactly the same way. On the contrary, it's important for you to develop your own parenting style while also working toward an appropriate level of consistency for your children. Here are some areas where you can collaborate with your ex on co-parenting more consistently:
- Schedules: Children thrive on routines. Whether your children are toddlers or tweens, you'll want to make sure your day together includes some type of schedule. Areas, where you can build consistency, include what the kids are expected to do when they wake up early in the morning when they can watch TV when they should do their homework, and when meals will be shared.
- Transitions: Understandably, transitioning between two homes can be hard for your children. You can make this easier by creating standards which the children can anticipate, such as creating consistent drop-off or pick-up times and developing a routine for how you'll say good-bye to each other. Being able to anticipate the routine is comforting to children and will help ease their anxiety during transitions.
- Meals: Meals offer a great way for any family to build in consistency. Begin by asking yourself some questions: Do the kids usually eat breakfast right away, or do they play for awhile first? Can they watch TV while they're eating? What time do they usually eat lunch and dinner? What about snacks? As adults, we can usually handle a skipped meal here and there; but it's important to make sure your children eat at regular intervals. In addition, if your child has a food allergy or sensitivity, it's crucial that each of you follow the instructions provided by your child's pediatrician.
- Rules: If you haven't done this yet, sit down with your co-parent and discuss your house rules. How can you make them similar so that the children know what is expected of them each time they move back and forth between your homes? Doing this as early as possible in your co-parenting relationship will help enable your children to meet your expectations.
- Routines: Consider how being consistent with regards to school work and chores can benefit your children. It's much easier for them to develop the self-discipline needed to succeed in life when the expectations we have for them are consistent. In addition, your expectations send a message to your children that you value their contribution and believe in their abilities.
- Consequences: You'll also want to discuss the consequences you plan to administer when your children misbehave. Are you committed to giving warnings? Will you use time-out? Will you revoke privileges when necessary? If so, which ones? Being united with your co-parent on these issues can make the job of following through with consequences easier for both of you.
- Bedtime Rituals: Inconsistency at bedtime is a frequent co-parenting complaint. Realize that it's most healthy for your children to go to bed at approximately the same time each night. This greatly impacts their ability to fall asleep naturally and independently. Talk with one another about what time your kids go to bed and whether they sleep with a night light or a special blanket, toy, or doll. Best of all, consistent co-parenting with regards to the bedtime routines will help your kids wake up refreshed for your time together, and that means more fun for each of you.
The Impact of Consistent Co-parenting
Finally, be careful to observe the impact of any changes you make toward more consistent co-parenting. Initially, making changes can seem like "work." However, as you observe that your children are more relaxed, participating more in family routines, and having fun during your time together, you'll find it to be well worth the effort.