Teachable Moments: When divorce affects parenting

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QHow do you suggest defending against the culture’s assault on childhood when it comes via an “inside job?” My soon-to-be-ex-wife previously saw and resisted it, but in recent years she has pretty much given into it rather than fight it. 

For example, it bothers me that she lets our high schooler play games with unacceptable content (violence and sexual themes) and allows the younger ones to hang out and observe. I’d solve both problems by limiting what the older one can play, both for his own good and to eliminate the younger ones’ exposure. Her view: Other kids play (and do) things that are a lot worse.

And concerning Snapchat, I wouldn’t allow a child to use it at all until about age 17. Her view is that this is how kids stay in touch these days, and do I want them to have friends or not?

I don’t want to do anything that criticizes the mother of my children or undermines their relationship with her; she’s a good person and she is their mom. But I’m frustrated that she’s taking the easy way out on these issues. I’d appreciate any thoughts on how to walk this fine line. 

AI’ll start with the most obvious and important aspect of your message: The fact that your marriage is breaking up has and will continue to have an impact on the way in which you and your ex-wife parent your children. Sadly, serious disagreements about parenting can be among the most destructive to a marriage. At the very least, a faltering marriage would bring these conflicts to light, as you’ve discovered. It’s worth the time and effort to find as much common ground as possible in your parenting decisions.

On the other hand, if your children’s mother formerly shared your concerns about the culture’s influence on the kids, she may be less concerned now because issues around your dissolving marriage are more pressing and important.

And, of course, that’s true. But what’s also true is that the negative influences of the culture have a greater chance of impacting teens and adolescents who are undergoing the upheaval your kids are experiencing because of your impending divorce.

First and foremost, I hope you have done (and are still doing) everything in your power to rescue your marriage. Your best hope of having greater influence on the ways in which your children engage with the culture is to remain “inside” and do the job together.

If your marriage can’t be saved, then you’ll have to create in your separate home an environment with respect to cultural engagement that you think is best. Establish rules for your house that reflect your values, and use the time there to expose the kids to the kinds of media and activities you feel are more wholesome and appropriate.

Expect resistance since your home will feel stricter, so lay out your rules in a loving, constructive way. Say to your children, “I know you’re allowed to play certain games and use social media apps when you’re at Mom’s house, but I’d like to do things a little differently when you’re here. I’m going to limit gaming choices and put some limits on using your cell phone so we can make the most of our time together.” Or tell them something similar.

Keep this in mind: The culture is a fact of life in this era. We who consider ourselves “traditional” in values must recognize that we can’t influence our kids by only saying no (though often that’s absolutely what must be said). We have to set an example and demonstrate that we’re not swayed by everything we encounter in the culture, but rather that we’re capable of making choices about how and when we engage in it — choices that reflect our values and the character we want for our families.

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