When my kids returned to me from their summer visit with their dad, the adjustment period was horrific. Anyone that tells you that raising children in two separate homes, with two sets of rules is a cake walk, isn’t telling you the whole story! It may be easier for them now, but it hasn’t always been that way, I guarantee you.
For the first six days of their return, I found myself the referee to their constant fussing and yelling. At the time, we were out of town on summer vacation and had already had the pleasure of enjoying ten days of peace and calm before they joined us. The plan was for them to join us as we continued with the vacation festivities. There was only one problem, once they came, peace and calm decided to jump ship.
Now I don’t at all blame this behavior on their visit because I know that fighting and bickering isn’t accepted in their other home either. And I know that children need an adjustment time to get back into the routine of things at each home, but some things have more to do with character than it does readjusting. I realized this with my kids when I finally sat them down and asked them what in the world was going on.
“It’s hard!” My son said.
“What’s hard?” I asked.
“Having one set of rules there and another set here. We don’t know which ones to follow. So we do what we can do here and do what we can do there. Then it’s hard to stop doing one thing at one house that you can do at the other house!”
Although at first, I didn’t necessarily see how that had anything to do with all the fussing and fighting, I let both of them continue talking. As I listened, what I found was that although my kids weren’t necessarily allowed to do things like fuss and fight at both houses, the consequences differed at each home based on the perspective of the parent.
For example, when my kids argue in our home, we respond to the argument by making them each explain what happened, then finding out how each person responded to the situation. Since in our home we have a no tolerance policy for hitting each other, if one person responded to the confrontation physically, they are in a greater degree of trouble, even if they aren’t the person that initiated the confrontation. Now, if in their other home, the person that initiated the confrontation gets in more trouble than the person that became physical, this causes a moral dilemma for the children. This type of dilemma makes adjusting to two homes challenging because the child doesn’t know whose perspective to build a moral compass upon. So often misbehavior is their camouflage for trying to learn how to adjust to changing rules.
So how can we help our children adjust to living in two homes?
This is what I had to figure out when talking to my kids that day. As much as I wanted to just be angry and annoyed because their arguing almost ruined my vacation, I realized that at that moment their transparency had revealed a common struggle that many children in blended families experience. The Value Struggle!
Since children in blended families have to adjust to changing rules and values from one home to another, they don’t instantly adopt a set of values as their own. They tend to just go with the flow, unlike a child in a traditional family who learns his or her values within one home. Feelings of uncertainty and confusion typically accompany a child’s blending experience as they try to adjust to rules.
As adults, we know that rules always change. Rules change from one job to another, one state to another, and one country to another. So there is great value in learning to adjust to changing rules. Knowing this, our job as parents isn’t to massage their discomfort with adjusting to rule changes, but rather to equip them with the tools to know how to adapt to changing rules. We do this by teaching them the importance of having a personal value system.
As I empathize with my children’s struggle, I used that moment to teach them what a personal value system was and why it was important that they have one. I explained to them that if someone values respect and they choose to be respectful, then it doesn’t matter who comes around them and is disrespectful, they will remain respectful because that is who they are and respect is something they value. Now if they choose to respond to that person with disrespect, they have just shown that they no longer value respect and they are no longer considered respectful.
In my example, I wanted my children to see that what a person values determines what they do and who they are. If someone values respect, they show respect, which means they are respectful. That is why a personal value system is so important. Changing rules doesn’t frazzle a person that has a personal value system. If the personal value system honors the value systems they are connected to; then changing rules don’t matter.
At the conclusion of my conversation, I wrote some statements and questions on a piece of paper for both of my kids to answer separately. One of the statements said:
I am _______ (with three blank lines following).
I encouraged them to fill in the blank lines with three personal values they have or should have. These items had to be specific character traits that would help them adjust to changing rules.
After they filled in the blanks, I explained to them that they would be saying these I AM statements often because speaking aloud affirmations helps bring them forth. They agreed, and we ended our vacation much better than it had started.
My hope is that in them having values unique to who they desire to become, rules will not need to govern their experience within both homes in the same way it did it the past. Rules can now be a safety net to catch them if their moral compass fails and they can now be consistent with who they are no matter where they go.