Ask the Experts

Q: Inconsistent Routines and Discipline in a Shared Custody Situation

In families with shared custody arrangements, inconsistency can seep into routines, expectations, and discipline strategies quite easily. This is awful for children with ADHD, who need clear instructions, rewards, and consequences.

Q: “My stepdaughter has ADHD and her mother does not want to work with us to help her. We have her 50/50. At our house, she has structure, rules, one chore per day, bedtime, etc. At her mom’s it is the opposite. We are doing everything suggested for a child with ADHD and we feel it isn’t helping because she only has that at our house. She is becoming defiant toward us because she can do whatever she wants at her mom’s house. How do we solve this?” — BonusMom


Hi BonusMom:

First, I applaud you for wanting to do right by your stepdaughter. I also truly feel for you as you try to navigate this complicated situation. Please know that you are not alone. At Order Out Of Chaos, we have many community members navigating these uncharted waters. And there are two things I always want to make clear right from the start.

1. I know this is not going to be easy to hear but the only thing you have control over is the parenting happening at your house. The most effective thing you can do is keep the focus on the rules and parameters in your home and keep your stepdaughter accountable when she breaks them. In other words, hold the line when she’s out of line.

2. Trust me when I say that everything you are doing for your stepdaughter is helping! As hard as it may seem to be in the position of “Sergeant Stepmom” vs “Party Parent,” children, especially those with ADHD, need structure, routine, organization and yes, even consequences. But you know that already!

So make sure you set clear and concise parameters. I’m assuming there are things your stepdaughter likes and wants. I’m all about responsibility and privilege. Meaning, you need to set parameters and let her know what consequences she will face if she doesn’t achieve them. Try not to focus on her emotion or the defiance – just on the rules you would like her to follow. Remember, she is also trying to navigate uncharted territory and is still finding her way.

[Click to Download: 13-Step Guide to Raising a Child with ADHD]

A few ideas to consider:

Can you get the school involved? Though I do not know your stepdaughter’s age, you did mention that she doesn’t have a treatment plan. Is your stepdaughter struggling in school? Does she have any accommodations? Perhaps a meeting with your stepdaughter’s mom, you and your husband, and the school’s professionals who all have the same goal in mind (to make your stepdaughter’s learning environment as successful as possible) might serve as a catalyst to get everyone on the same page.

Have you asked if it is a good time to talk? Sounds crazy, right? But it works! My clients tell me that once they stopped “parenting” (the nagging-yelling-I-can’t-take-it-anymore part), and started “partnering,” their whole dynamic shifted. You say your stepdaughter has become deviant. Let’s actively engage her in this process while you cede some control and ask her what she thinks might work. This includes taking into consideration how and when she best communicates.

For example, she might prefer talking with you after dinner and not right when she arrives home from school. My clients also have had a lot of luck moving these conversations outside (fewer distractions). So try breakfast on a Sunday morning at your local diner or walking the dog together. Putting space between you and the environment that is frustrating you always helps to dial down the emotion!

Good Luck!

[Free Parenting Resource: Your 10 Toughest Discipline Dilemmas – Solved!]


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Updated on March 2, 2020

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