Whenever there is a divorce that includes kids, you’re sure to find guilty parents. Many divorcing parents feel like they’ve made their children nothing more than a statistic, even if they are a spouse that didn’t want the breakup. These parents try to befriend their children in hopes to “make it up to them” that their family is no longer intact. Where I live, we call them Disneyland Dads and Magic Mountain Moms. You know the ones; they give their children everything, never say no and act like a BFF.

Sadly, this tactic doesn’t work. In fact, most times it ends up frustrating all involved and damaging the kids in the process. Priorities become skewed, former rules are abandoned and children are caught in the crossfire of their parents’ battle for the kids’ allegiance. There are no winners.

So, what does healthy parenting look like in the single years? An effective parenting plan is the best way to set your children up for success now and in the future. Here’s how to create one of your own.

1. Set Boundaries

First, set healthy boundaries that are clear to your kids. For instance, start with items like bedtimes, chore lists and time limits for electronic devices. With teens, you may want to include curfews and driving rules. Keep your list to about seven items; too much information can be overwhelming, while too few rules leaves room for loopholes.

In your parenting plan, be sure to clearly list consequences and rewards for each rule listed. These should always match the rule. For instance, if your child knows that they are only allowed to be on electronic devices for two hours per day and instead extends it to three hours, a healthy consequence would be to lose privileges the next day. Likewise, if all the chores for the week are completed properly, anything from an ice cream date to allowance can be considered a good reward. Make sure that you understand what your kids value and use that in both rewards and consequences.

Children thrive in an environment where they know what the rules are and understand how the system works. In fact, sometimes it is beneficial to sit with your kids and ask them what they think are appropriate rules. This doesn’t mean that they are writing the plan, but by having your children offer their suggestions, you may find that you weren’t being firm enough in some areas. Plus, everyone feels valued when they are able to add their thoughts to the conversation.

2. Present The Plan

Next, sit down with your kids and present the final parent-approved plan to them in a casual environment. Make sure everyone has a copy so they can follow along when you do this. Read the list of rules as well as the consequences and rewards for following them. Have your children repeat this back to you so you know that they understand the family rules. Make sure to post it where everyone can see it on a daily basis.

3. Put The Plan In Action

Once your kids understand the plan, it is time to put it to good use. This is where it gets hard for most single parents, especially if you have guilt from the divorce or you only have your kids on the weekends. Don’t be afraid to follow the plan! If your kids understand that there are expectations for them, then a failure to follow through with consequences and rewards actually makes you appear untrustworthy. This is confusing to children of all ages, especially teens. Remember, God made you to be your kids’ parent, not their friend.

A solid parenting plan benefits both you and your children. The plan instills a sense of obedience and accomplishment for the little ones and shows that you are a trustworthy and effective family leader. It also puts your family in the best position possible for a potential remarriage situation as it is a great foundation for a future blended stepfamily.

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