On their way to a soccer game, Tom stopped by his ex-wife’s house so his son could run in and grab a clean jersey. Running late, Ryan thought nothing of storming into the house while his dad waited in the car in the driveway. A single divorcee, Ryan’s mom was usually at work this time on Saturdays. Unfortunately, she wasn’t at work that day — nor was she alone.

A nervous 12-year-old returned to the car with many questions. Tom didn’t have the answers. He tried explaining that he and his ex-wife lived different lives with different values, but he felt his comments came up short.

As Tom shared his story with me, he was confused, angry and scared. “I have to admit,” he confessed, “the Lord was hardly the center of our home when we were married. We rarely went to church and when we did, it was for some special occasion.”

Now, Tom is a faithful believer who wants his son to share his faith. “I’m trying to help Ryan learn from my mistakes, even as his mom keeps making them. It’s strange, but raising my son seems harder now that I’m a Christian.”

I understood Tom’s frustration but encouraged him not to give up. I reminded him that he was expecting a lot to think that his former spouse would have experienced the same spiritual transformation when he did.

The mission

In split-parent family homes (homes where each parent shares custody after a separation or divorce), it is troublesome when former spouses do not share the same values. So how can you help your children shape a healthy value system when they live in two separate homes? To begin, it might be helpful to consider with them what your attitudes and behaviors are and how they reflect your values in life.

Ask them to list their top five values while you do the same. Don’t show them your list until they are done. This could be a wonderful time to build your relationship, so don’t rush the discussion.

If you see a contradiction between a value and an attitude or behavior in your child’s life, be gentle as you communicate your thoughts. It might be helpful to share any difficulties you have had in living out a value you professed. Remind them that it’s not unusual to slip up or make mistakes, but that living out their values is worth the effort and concentration that it will take. From here, help your kids compile a complete Code of Values to which they might aspire. 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. If you are confronted about the values code by the other parent, emphasize that your kids chose their own standards and not yours alone. Most parents are likely to support their kids when aspiring for higher standards, especially when behavior improves. While it’s the behaviors we appreciate, the values do the shaping. A sample Code of Values might be:

VALUE: Faith
ATTITUDE: I love the Lord and look for ways to know Him more.
BEHAVIOR: Attend church, read Bible and pray

VALUE: Generosity
ATTITUDE: I help others who cannot help themselves.
BEHAVIOR: Give time, money and service to others
(Share my snacks and play with lonely kids at recess)

VALUE: Education
ATTITUDE: I value learning as an opportunity to grow.
BEHAVIOR: Read and finish homework

VALUE: Respect
ATTITUDE: I honor others by showing love and respect.
BEHAVIOR: Quarrel less and encourage (say nice things about) others more

VALUE: Safety
ATTITUDE: I keep my home a safe place.
BEHAVIOR: Behave appropriately indoors (Save roughhousing for my bedroom, and never walk to a friends’ house without telling my mom or dad)