Spiritual-Morally Divided Co-Parents in Blended Families

Let’s begin by dividing the three terms in the title of this blog.

  • Blended Family: A family unit living in the same home in which the husband and wife are not the biological mother and father of each of the children in that household. A blended family can be created as a result of the death of a spouse, remarriage after divorce, or an unwed mother marrying someone other than her child’s biological father.
  • Co-Parents: This is the term used for the two biological parents of a child after a divorce. It refers to a mother and father who must still work together as parents when they no longer share the roles of husband and wife towards each other.
  • Spiritually-Morally Divided: This phrase is intended to capture the dynamics that exist when one co-parent has stronger ethical and spiritual commitments than the other co-parent; resulting in a co-parenting dynamic where children receive divergent examples and instruction about what is “good” and “acceptable” behavior and values.

So now the question becomes, “How should the co-parent with stronger Christian convictions parent their child when their child has a second home that holds a competing set of values?” Realize that the factors contributing to divorce reveal a conflict-immaturity in the co-parents and the effects of the divorce process often exacerbates these dynamics. So it should be remembered:

“When two elephants [parents] fight, it is the grass [children] that suffers.” African Proverb

Ron Deal articulates that legal reality that is often resisted by the parent with stronger Christian convictions.

“The bottom line—barring legal abuse, the more spiritually upright parent does not have the ‘right’ to control the other parent, his or her lifestyle, or access to the children (p. 123).” Ron L. Deal in The Smart Stepfamily

Much more needs to be said on this subject than a single blog post will allow, but let me offer a few introductory thoughts in the form of a principle and several cautions.

The principle is “consistent moderation is better than divided ideals.” Think of it numerically on a scale of 1 to 10. If both co-parents view their parenting approach as a “8” (very good) and the other’s as a “2,” then the child will grow up in two starkly different and competing homes. The net effect is negative.

In the same scenario, if both parents can agree upon a “5” parenting approach (think basic rules, permissible behaviors, and reward-punishment structure), then the child will be much better served. Within this approach, each co-parent would, undoubtedly, share their different values and opinions, but the world of the child would be much less disorienting.

What does this require? Likely more cooperation and maturity than was displayed by one or both co-parents in the process that resulted in the divorce. But the reality is that even when you divorce your spouse, you do not end the need to work together for best interest of your children. The options are a “mature 5” that blesses your child or an “immature 8-2 split” that compounds the negative effects of divorce. Adults have to be adults if kids are going to get to be kids.

So, what are some guidelines that would help define and utilize a “5” parenting approach? Here are six “do not’s” to follow:

  1. Bad mouth the other parent – even if the negative comment is warranted, it does not serve your child well to hear it.
  2. Compare living conditions – comparison creates a sense of choice or competition; neither mentality serves the child well in a custody-schedule scenario.
  3. Create guilt for joy – avoid anything that would make your child feel bad for enjoying time with the other parent.
  4. Refuse to listen to stories – their world becomes more divided when parents do not show interest in what is going on in the other part their life.
  5. Send message or seek information via kids – the more “voice” the child has in the communication between parents, the more “responsibility” the child will feel for the conflict that emerges. This only exacerbates the child’s tendency to feel guilt or shame for the divided family.
  6. Ask kids for advice – too often children can become pseudo-spouses or adultified confidants after a divorce. This robs the child of getting to mature naturally by placing the weight of age-inappropriate questions or choices on them prematurely.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.