The Tao of Co Parenting
by Patricia Sokolich
There are numerous reasons why couples, both married and unmarried, end their relationships. Regardless of the reason, whether infidelity or financial or simply irreconcilable differences, when children are involved, the wide range of emotions that accompany divorce or any other break up, must be set aside, especially in the presence of the children.
For anyone who has experienced a divorce or break-up, I know that this is easier said than done. Feelings of hurt, betrayal, sadness and anger can overcome even the most mild mannered, well-intentioned parent and unfortunately, it often does.
It is imperative to control any emotional outbursts in the presence of your children. They are already traumatized over the breakup of their parents. You must emphasize that the breakup is not their fault, it has nothing to do with them and that both of you love them and will continue to be there for them. You will need to work together and devise a plan to co-parent, that will help the two of you work through this emotional time while putting the best interests of your children first.
I have created some tips to help you transition into a single parent household, while organizing your thoughts and actions, thus avoiding the “knee-jerk” reaction to uncomfortable situations. The act of co-parenting will create a positive experience for everyone involved in this process, especially the children.
Communicate with each other. Don’t assume the worst and don’t take things for granted. Have mutual respect for each other. If you have tickets for an event on a day that is not yours, ask to switch days or offer another parenting day. Avoid passive-aggressive statements that seek to bring about pity or anger such as, “I spent $1OO on theater tickets, but I guess I’ll have to consider that money wasted since it’s your weekend.”
Be flexible. Consider the above situation from the other parent,s perspective, with the child as the focus. What will benefit the child? What will reinforce the idea that although the parties no longer reside under the same roof, you are still a family.
Consider what the child wants. Does it benefit the child to miss out on a
birthday party or after school activity by hoarding that child on the day he or she is scheduled to be with the other parent? Think about your child before you schedule a music lesson or sports activity or any other after-school activity. How does it fit in with your work schedule or your ex’s parenting time. Are they willing to take the child on the days their activities are scheduled or will it be an argument every week.
Respect your growing child’s personal activities. This is tough for even for an intact family, but is especially trying for those who spend less time than they would like with their child. As children grow and become more independent, they want and need to spend time away from their parents and with their own friends. Children need to go outside and play. Do not think of this time as cutting into time they are supposed to spend with you. Try to accept and accommodate that, within reason, as much as you can.
Present a united front. Commit to having conversations with your ex-spouse concerning major rules such as: curfew, time spent on video games, chores, even bedtime for younger children. Respect those rules. Do not try to be your child’s friend or even the better parent by letting your child break the rules when in your care, custody and control. The unity by both parents in creating a united front to enforce boundaries for the child will create a feeling of security for the child, in what can feel like an uncertain time.
Don’t compete for affection. Your ex-spouse might outspend you at every turn. You might feel hungry for affection in a time when you find yourself alone for the first time in many years. Many parents make up for these feelings by attempting to become the child’s favorite by taking them on vacations, amusement parks, or by over spending. Although the short term benefits of becoming the favorite parent might seem like a “home run” in the long run it does not help the child. You have a responsibility as a parent to provide a stable, nurturing, safe environment for the child filled with warmth and love. This will help to solidify a long-term positive relationship. It is important not to change the dynamic of the parent/child relationship. Keep in mind, your role is to be a parent, not your child’s friend.
Be careful of displaced anger. If your child support is late and you are behind on your bills and you are feeling overwhelmed, do not take your anger out on your children just because their room is messy or they forgot their homework. Consider who you are really angry at and deal directly with that person, away from the children’s presence.
Finally, if you need legal advice in helping you through this difficult time,
please feel free to give my office a call. We specialize in helping families
through the divorce process or break ups and can help to make this as
painless as possible for you and your children.