One of the most important skills a parent can learn and establish is consistency. Children generally do best in environments where they know what to expect. This means that setting rules, guidelines and schedules that are age appropriate and the same from one time to the next, can help the child to feel safer and more confident in the family life around him. For example, every morning we get up at 7 a.m., get dressed, eat breakfast and then go out to start our day. After school we come home, have a snack, complete homework and then have free time until dinner. After dinner we bathe, read a book and go to bed by 8:30 p.m. Without structure, many families create unnecessary chaos. An example I have heard about often is “my kids get up and watch TV or play video games and then we are always rushing to get to school.” Parents who enforce schedules aren’t necessarily being strict but instead are using good parenting skills to keep the household running smoothly.
Sometimes extenuating circumstances can derail an otherwise organized environment. A parent might be sick, stressed, have long workdays or be going through divorce and this structure goes by the wayside. For a short time, this can be fine, but over the long term, inconsistent parenting can be harmful. When a child doesn’t know how a parent will respond to a particular event, then the child’s level of anxiety heightens, as he doesn’t know what to expect. Is he going to be punished for skipping class to go surfing like last time or will his parent be understanding and forget about it like she did the time before? Inconsistent parenting can lead to low self-esteem, insecurity, increased anxiety and an overall lack of trust for the parent.
If you are going through a divorce and are having a difficult time staying on the same page with your ex-spouse about how to raise your kids, here are some reasons why you should try to work it out:
1. Security – consistency gives the child the sense that they can rely on their parents.
2. Less tantrums and bad behavior – when children know what to expect and that “no” means “no!” and not “maybe”, they are less likely to push their parents for an alternate outcome.
3. Stress reduction – when children can’t predict what will happen next, it creates anxiety, fear and confusion.
4. Responsibility – children growing up in consistent households develop a sense of ownership for their behavior and it boosts self-confidence. They know what is expected of them and what happens if they act otherwise.
It is understandable that both parents might not always agree on rules and consequences and sometimes through the divorce process, one parent might become more lax so the kids favor him or her. You may not be able to control your ex-spouses household, but you can control yours. In the long run you will find yourself with a more peaceful, organized home life and the children will ultimately feel more safe and stable while in your domain.