Dear Dr. Jann,

I am a divorced dad with equal custody of my nine-year-old daughter. This morning she asked if I could dry her hair before she ate breakfast because “that’s how my mommy does it.” Keep in mind I’ve just learned to dry hair because her mother was the one to do it when we were together, but we have a routine each morning and the key is, while she’s eating breakfast, I take a quick shower and get ready myself. Should I change our routine at our house because “that’s how mommy does it”? What’s good ex-etiquette?

Dr. Jann:

Most who attempt to coParent their children after a break-up have to admit to hearing the words, “That’s not how we do it at Mom’s (or Dad’s) house” and will agree that it’s pretty close to hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. Ironically, a common thread throughout any discussion about sharing custody and coParenting always seems to include mention of consistency from house to house. When you have complete inconsistency it is considered that you are parallel parenting; one thing happens at mom’s house and another set of rules at dad’s. Unfortunately sometimes that is the best option when you have exhausted all attempts at communicating and coordinating but if possible you should try to keep some routines similar in both households.

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Your question is a perfect example to drive home that as much as we would like to coordinate efforts, things may differ from house to house based on lifestyle: your work day starts earlier or later, stay at home caregivers, the amount of people in the home, single parent as opposed to a two parent home, etc. All these things play into how one does the little things to start the day and as a result, sometimes they just can’t be the same at both homes.

While you want your daughter to be comfortable, you also want to help her realize that things may have to differ from house to house and that’s okay. An easy way to explain why you prefer to do it your way is to say exactly what you said in your question, “Honey, I get ready while you are eating breakfast and we have to do it this way to make sure we get out of the house on time.” You could then brainstorm together about other ways to get ready to demonstrate why you have chosen the way you have. You never know, while chatting with her as you do her hair, you might find a different way of getting ready that will make you both happy.

The key here is not to make the child feel badly about you doing it differently than Mommy. Plead your case based on lifestyle, not whose way is better, and you’ll both raise a child who loves both of her homes and is not troubled by why there are differences. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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About Jann Blackstone

Jann BlackstoneDr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation and is often called the “Relationship Expert for Today’s Relationships” because of her “real life, down-to-earth” approach to relationship problem solving. She is the author of six books on divorce and parenting, the most popular, the Ex-etiquette series featuring Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation. She is also the author of the Ex-etiquette syndicated column and a frequent guest or consultant on television and radio talk shows, including Good Morning America (ABC), The Today Show (NBC), Keeping Kids Healthy (PBS), the Early Show (CBS), and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has been the featured expert in many magazines, including, Child, Parents, Parenting, Newsweek, Family Circle, More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, BRIDES, Woman’s Day, and Working Mother Magazine.

In 1999, Dr. Jann founded and became the first Director of Bonus Families®, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working to change the way society views stepfamilies by supplying up-to-date co-parenting information via its Web site, counseling, mediation, and a worldwide support group network. They prefer to use the word “bonus” to the word step. Step implies negative things; however, a “bonus” is a reward for a job well done. “Bonus…a step in the right direction.”

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