When Your Ex Has Different Values
What to do when your ex-spouse doesn't share your values
In split-parent family homes (homes where each parent shares custody after a separation or divorce), the former spouses may not share the same values. Instead of focusing all your energy on the other home and what your ex-spouse is doing wrong, create a Code of Values to help your children define the guidelines for appropriate behavior.
Define your values. Ask your children to list their top five values while you do the same. Some examples of values would include faith, honesty, generosity, the importance of education, respect, etc. Once complete, each person can share what is on his list.
Discuss differences. If you see a contradiction between a value and an attitude or behavior in your children's lives, be gentle as you communicate your thoughts. Share any difficulties you have had in living out a value you profess. Remind your children that it's not unusual to slip, but that living out their values is worth the effort. From here, compile the lists to create a Code of Values, standards to live by. Expand the list to include practical ways to live out each value. Print the list on nice paper and frame two copies, one for each home.
Encourage your kids to ask their other parent to help them live up to their Code of Values. Most parents are likely to support their kids when aspiring for higher standards, especially when behavior improves.
Live it. Your kids watch your behavior to formulate their own values. Don't speak one way and live another. The true mark of a person's value system, ultimately, is the person's behavior. In the New Testament Jesus says, "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit" (Matthew 7:17-18).
Focus on your own home. The focus should not be on a former spouse. It's on your children. Avoid the temptation to fall into a self-righteous attitude. This is not about living "above" your former spouse; this is simply about helping your children live a strong set of values in a broken world.
Build solid community. As you guide your kids, remember that spending time with other Christians is crucial. Socializing with Christian families allows your kids to experience the Christian home as the common standard. Christian community reinforces Christian values.
Defining values for our children will help them live out what they believe. Once they have that definition on paper, if they see behavior (in their other home) that is not consistent, they'll be able to understand that it's wrong and hopefully make a different choice for themselves.
Sample Code of Values:
Attitude: I love the Lord and look for ways to know Him more
Behavior: Attend church, read Bible and pray
Attitude: I look to help others who cannot help themselves
Behavior: Give time, money and service to others (share my snacks and play with lonely kids at recess)
Attitude: I honor others by showing love and respect
Behavior: Quarrel less and encourage (say nice things about) others more
This article first appeared in the February 2005 issue of the Single-Parent Family edition of the Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2005 Andrew Stenhouse. All rights reserved.