As a parent, there are few more infuriating things your children can say than “Mom/Dad does it different,” with the implication that the other parent’s way is better. It is especially frustrating when you have separated from the other parent and have to be your own backup. This can strike at nearly any time, for any arbitrary-seeming reason. Mama lets me have cheez-its instead of broccoli! Mama never puts THAT color soap in my bath! Mama doesn’t make me clear my place! Mama lets me pick my own clothes! Mama loves it when I jump off the roof with a Wal-Mart bag for a parachute!
Of course, the kids always forget that I have known their mother longer than any of them have, and of course I know that we have different standards, different rules and different values. I also know which values and rules we have in common, so am easily able to spot which claims might be true and which are obviously spurious. In reality, it doesn’t matter if any of these statements are true.
The basic reason for a separation or divorce often boils down to the couple not seeing eye to eye any more. There can be many symptoms of this root cause, and many manifestations of even the same symptom, but fundamentally the two parties just can’t continue to co-exist under the same roof. Part of those differences for couples with children will often include ideas about child care. This could be a small or large part of the package, inconsequential or major, but the differences will exist. It is therefore extremely difficult to have uniformity in how you will deal with each situation compared to the other parent. This is even true when the separated parents coordinate their rules to have overlap.
Over time, there are certain things you will need to establish with your children to overcome these differences. It is important to have rules, expectations, and consistency. For example, in my house we have rules about dinner time. If my kids want dessert, they don’t have to eat all of their dinner, but they do have to eat all of their vegetables. Seamus and Duncan are big enough to clear their own spots and are expected to do so. I don’t respond to “I need more drink,” I expect to hear “may I have more milk please Dad?”
Kids have a remarkable way of living up (or down) to your expectations. I expect the best behavior from my kids, and most of the time I get it. I expect politeness, courtesy and respect. They have expectations of me as well. When they are with Dad, they expect love, trips to the park/playground, and for me to beat any particularly difficult levels in their video games. They also expect nap times promptly at noon, punishment or correction for bad behavior and frank conversations about things they have done wrong and how they can do better.
This mosaic of interwoven expectations grows from a simple set of rules applied with consistency. It is not a magic formula that makes everything run smoothly, it is something difficult that you have to work at daily. It won’t make “but Mom does it differently!” go away for good, but it will reduce the frequency. It will also allow you to confidently state “At Dad’s/Mom’s house, we do it this way,” and have that be enough. It will be enough because you have demonstrated that you are going to do it the way you say every time. Ultimately, your consistency is the best defense you have.