Divorced Parents Disciplining Children

My ex-husband and I are not on the same page in terms of disciplining our 5 year old. What can I do?


Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM):  One of the basic understandings that takes a little while when people get divorced is is that you only have control over your own household. And that as much as you want to tell an ex-spouse what she or he ought to do with your children, you don’t really have a right to do that unless there’s something major or a horrible thing going on. It’s good to discuss with your former spouse what you’re doing, and that can be in the form of email or phone messages or direct contact, depending on which kind of communication works best. That’s something people will figure that out as you go along. Probably the worst way to do it is on the phone.

MOLLY: You mean you should do it in person – over coffee or go to lunch? Face to face?

MOM: No. You shouldn’t do it over the phone or in person. People hear tonal qualities in the other person and they begin to feel very defensive. And then they can’t really hear what the person is saying.

MOLLY: So how should you talk about these things with your ex?

MOM: You should do it by email or in some sort of written form because that takes all the tonal message out of it. Unless you have a minimum of conflict between the two of you than you can do it over the phone.

I would not advise doing it in person unless the two of you are good friends. The less direct the contact, the probably the better in the early stages. You can do whatever you want if you don’t have conflict, but the conflict is the major issue. And nothing’s worse for children than conflict between their parents. That’s the main stress for children of divorced couples.

MOLLY: So, essentially, you want to write down how you feel about your discipline mantras or your rules?

MOM: Yes and also the more positive side of it. How do you reward a child, or how do you do behavioral modification. And, if they want to do it at their house, great. If they don’t want to do it at their house, that has to be okay too. The bottom line is that children know the difference between their parents. They know what each parent can tolerate and what they can’t tolerate and they will treat each parent accordingly.  It’s not likely that people are going to have the exact same rules in both households. That’s probably unlikely. But you do what you need to do in your household because that’s all you can control. One of the bad side effects of divorce and parents aren’t always on the same page, but children learn very quickly to separate each parent and what goes on at each house.


Dr. Susan Rutherford is a Clinical Psychologist who has been in practice for over 30 years. She has her undergraduate degree from Duke University, a Masters from New York University (NYU), and a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Denver.
MOLLY: Molly is Dr. Rutherford’s younger daughter and the mother of two children under six.

This blog is about raising kids and how our parenting decisions now can have long term effects.


Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success disciplining your children with your X-spouse using other strategies. Or Contact US if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.

ding 5 comments on “Divorced Parents Disciplining Children

  1. Mom and Molly: your comments are a wonderful look at complex, challenging problems parenting. Keep them coming, as we grandparents are very involved in kids care today! The site is beautifully organized as well. I plan to forward this to many in my extended family and wish you well in building a following of devoted fans of helpful perspectives!

  2. I am going through a divorce right now, and am experiencing this as we speak. I have quickly learned that I can only control what happens at my house. I have sat my children down and told them that the rules at my house are what I expect them to abide by. They clearly understand the difference between the rules at both houses, even though their ages are 9,8 and 5. I’ve been communicative with my X spouse on major things that I want addressed, and luckily, he’s cooperating. It’s very important to have an amicable relationship with your X, for the sake of the kids. Even though my X did something awful, I suck it up and put on a good face, for the sake of my children. I want them to have a postiive experience when they are at my house, so knowing that’s all I can control, I make it the best environment possible. Good luck to all of you out there that are going through this. It’s not easy, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  3. Thank you! There are a lot of experiences I could have been without, but also a lot of good ones. I wo8;un&#d217lt be who I am today if it wasn’t for all this – good and bad.

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