Don’t become the “fun parent”
When parents split up, the primary custodial parent usually assumes the role of disciplinarian, schedule manager, and chief enforcer. In many cases, children look to the custodial parent (often their mother) for structure, rules, and deadlines. The non-custodial parent (often the father) becomes the counterpart: the easy-going, carefree, “fun parent” with no boundaries. When kids are young, the fun parent may seem quite attractive. For rebellious teenagers acting out against the custodial parent who sets curfews and imposes punishment, the “fun parent” also seems like a perfect alternative.
But being the “fun parent” is a short-lived experience. Children require a reasonable amount of structure, and they actually prefer it, notwithstanding their occasional outbursts. Non-custodial parents, in particular — especially those who are extremely grateful to see the children — must exercise restraint not to turn their homes into playgrounds that ignore all of the children’s disciplinary rules, curfews, and manners. Total freedom and boundless fun and games will not build a long-term parent-child relationship.
To avoid being cast as the fun parent, make an effort to learn about the rules and structures that are in place in the other parent’s home. The custodial and non-custodial parent need not do everything the same way: It’s okay to have different household rules. But be careful not to arbitrarily or spitefully reverse the other parent’s rules, or to disavow them in order to win your children’s affections. How much time should be devoted to the children’s homework when they’re with you? How long should they watch TV, text and email on computers, or play video games? These are decisions you’ll need to make in a manner that considers the best interests of the child, the other parent’s policies, and your own preferences, without trying to win the reputation of the “fun parent.”