Dear Dr. Jann: How do you handle it when one divorced parent values education and pushes the kids to get good grades and the other parent does not see the importance of school? I’m afraid my sons are going to flunk out of high school! Their father is a very successful automobile mechanic. He said he barely graduated high school and it’s stupid to stress about school. So, I look like the crazy parent when I want to ground them for not doing their homework and dad just laughs. How do I handle this?
Dr. Jann: Rather than getting frustrated or trying to change dad’s mind, concentrate on improving your ability to communicate.
First, get clear about your own mindset. You must stick to your own standards in your own home.
Research shows that children act out less if at least one parent stays consistent in their expectations. However, when dealing with teenagers, it may also be helpful to explain why you believe so strongly in your point of view.
For example, using Dad’s career choice as a reference: Cars are now computerized and with that computerization comes the need to upgrade the machines used to calibrate the new cars. With each upgrade people need special training. High school teaches kids how to apply what they learned in middle school and lays the ground work for their ability to grasp any additional training they might need after graduation. It doesn’t have to be college, it can be trade school, but there’s a likelihood that some additional training will be needed—and the prerequisite to all that is a high school diploma.
Then, get clear with the other parent. Initiate a discussion in a neutral place away from the kids. Explain that your motives are not to undermine or try to control his home, but to look for a solution in the best interest of the children. Get him involved in the problem solving. Ask for his suggestions.
Next, get clear with the kids. Consider giving your kids a transition period that allows them time to decompress when returning to your home. But, make sure you both have the same idea of what a transition period is. It will be counterproductive if you think it’s 2 hours and they think it’s 24.
Finally, dad and you must demonstrate firsthand the importance of respecting both parents’ wishes—even if you disagree. Never overly undermine each other, particularly in front of the children. If possible, try to find a compromise – a compromise demonstrates cooperation, good will, and respect for the other party. Until now you have been showing your children how to disagree. Compromise shows them how to look for solutions.
Here’s an example of compromise: Perhaps the kids can go to your home each day after school until their homework is completed. That way, although Dad does openly support homework, he’s not undermining your rules, either. Or, a more neutral solution might be to enroll the boys in an afterschool tutoring program that gives them time to finish their work before returning to either home after school.
There’s a solution here. Find it together, in the best interest of your boys.