Co-Parenting After Divorce
by Patricia Sokolich
It’s a well known fact that children have a difficult time adjusting to their parent’s divorce. Have you ever stopped to think about the reasons that cause them so much upset? You might be surprised to know that after the initial anger, fear and confusion is dealt with, the children’s concerns focus mostly on the necessary day to day changes that will occur in their lives. They want to know that both parents still love them; that they will continue to see and spend time with each parent; that they can still live in the same house; stay in the same school and maintain the same friendships they have known. More importantly, children want to know that their parents will stop fighting and not force them to “take sides” against the other parent.
When you ask children of divorced parents what they want most in the world their reply usually involves their parents getting back together again. While this may be true in some instances, you will also find that some of them just want to return to the world as it was before the divorce. It doesn’t necessarily mean they want their parents to be back together (to continue the fighting, screaming and name calling); but what they do want is to continue their lives as they were. Re-uniting is not necessarily what the children are looking for. Sometimes they just want to know that their lives will be stable.
To enable children to maintain a strong relationship with both parents following divorce, parents must learn to co-parent In a way that allows children to be comfortable communicating, visiting and living with each parent at various times. Focusing on the needs of the children rather than on the other parent is usually the best way to accomplish this goal. Co-parenting is constructing a relationship that involves both parents dealing with the day to day needs of their children in a way that puts the needs of the children in the forefront of the relationship. Many adults have had to learn to deal with a difficult boss or an annoying coworker on a day to day basis in order to keep their job, but fail to use these same techniques when it comes to dealing with a difficult ex-spouse.
Because children look to their parents for signs that the family can and will get through this difficult period in their lives, divorced parents who work together are more successful at meeting their children’s short and long term needs. Divorce can be very frustrating and painful, but the number one goal for both parents should be to shelter their children from post-divorce conflict.
Post-divorce conflict negatively impacts children and is considered a major stress factor for children who feel caught in the middle. Because divorcing parents often use their children to manipulate and/or control the other parent around a variety of personal, social, and financial issues, it is not uncommon to see an increase in children’s risk factors for behavior problems, such as teen pregnancy, school failure, suicide, depression, delinquency and substance abuse.
Parents who express their rage toward their ex by asking children to carry hostile messages, by denigrating the other parent in front of the child, or by not allowing the child to mention the other parent in their presence are creating stress and loyalty conflicts in their children.
Not surprisingly, when parents do not put their children in the middle of their conflicts, these children’s behaviors do not differ from children whose parents had no marital conflict or divorce.
Remember- as divorced parents you can make it better or make it bitter for your children.