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How do you handle rules in two-household families?


Published December 1, 2013 at 4:00 a.m.

David Gale, Richmond


Job: Captain, Burlington Fire Department

Sons: Andrew, 20, Kyle, 17

My boys' mother and I are pretty much on the same page with rules and discipline. They were 11 and 8 when we separated, and we basically carried on with the rules we set up when we were together. Sometimes, if they were out of line at her place, she might ask me to talk with them. If there was something they wanted to do that I was interested in, and she didn't think they were old enough, they might come to me, but rarely.

They're good kids. They pay for their car insurance, and we have an agreement that they'll pay for part of their college tuition. We all sat down to talk about it. It was a family discussion.

Usually, they come to my place, and we hang out, and they don't give me any flak. But once, Kyle had a party while I was gone. He knew there would be consequences, but he figured he'd have fun and deal with consequences later. His mom and I talked about it — she was probably more disappointed than I was. We grounded him. No car or phone for a month.

Will Mikell, Williston


Job: Producer, "Across the Fence," UVM Extension Service

Sons: Davis, 18, Sam, 15

Even before we were married, my ex-wife and I shared a pretty common vision where raising kids was concerned and what our expectations were. I think we established solid ground rules that still work for us today.

Was it easier when we were married? Sure it was, but we made it very clear to the boys: "You don't ask Dad if you can play a video game if you already asked Mom and her answer was no." You asked one parent; that's it. You didn't get to plea bargain the thing. They know that it's not respectful — and does not work — to try to play one parent against the other, even though we're in separate homes.

They have responsibilities in both houses: to mow the lawn, take out the trash and help with the dishes. If they don't meet their responsibilities, there are consequences, whether it's here or there. We're fortunate that our boys communicate well with each of us. There's a mutual respect, and that makes it easier to establish ground rules.

Abram Corbett, South Burlington


Job: Senior Editor, Creative Services, WCAX-TV

Daughters: Eva, 6, Alana, 4

Part of the reason my ex-wife and I got together is that opposites attract. We're kind of the poster children for that setup. So she tends to ask the girls things, like, "Can you please come here?" and I'm more like, "Come here — right now." If you ask a child something, it gives them leeway. But, with certain things, I feel they don't get a choice. I don't say, "Would you like to brush your teeth?" I'm more like, "Come on, it's time." The same goes for bedtimes.

Some things my ex-wife worries more about. Like, one time Eva said "poopie," a word she picked up at school, and her mother was very serious about it. To me, it wasn't a big deal. I think a word like that is something a kid might use more if you react to it.

But, I don't think the two of us are offering a radical contrast. We're hoping we're both providing love for our children and experiences that will be good for them.

Bryan Agran, Richmond


Job: Co-owner, Hen House Productions

Two daughters, 10 and 8

I think my ex and I have similar expectations. But each person has to be free to run their household the way they see fit. While rules may be different, we have open communication because we both want to raise healthy children who will become healthy adults.

Children are always going to push limits and test boundaries. We let them know Mommy and Daddy talk. We'll call and say, "Here's what was said. Is this accurate?" Whatever you say to one of us, you'd better be ready to back it up when you say it in front of the other parent.

As far as discipline goes, you do something egregious at my household, you're going to be grounded. You can't expect the other parent to continue the grounding in their household, so the kids know they're going to serve out the rest of the time when they get back. At the same time, the other parent is aware of the situation. The kid's on probation. So if they do it again, they may be grounded at the other house, too.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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