One of the most difficult transitions in life to face is perhaps a divorce or separation from a partner with whom you’ve chosen to have children. Not only does this represent a challenging interpersonal feat to process through the pain, hurt and guilt from the loss of relationship, but it is done under the watchful eye of your child or teen who is looking to you for clues on how to handle themselves and their own emotions. No matter the age, the separation of one’s parents is a difficult challenge to face, as is the challenge of learning how to transition into a co-parenting relationship with an ex-partner. The truth is, if the children are young, you have many years ahead of you of working through the potentially awkward, definitely uncomfortable unyielding and formidable realm of parenting responsibilities. Co-parenting requires empathy, patience and open communication for success. Despite the difficulty, it is crucial that you and your co-parent are on the same page when it comes to parenting strategies with little ones and teens alike.
Here are some best practices to keep in mind when planning your parenting strategy.
Commit to communicating often and consistently with your co-parent – Arrange to do this through whichever medium works best for your family, be it email, texting, letters, or face-to-face conversation. There are even some apps you can download directly to your phone where you can upload schedules, share information and communicate between parents. However, It is imperative that your child is not used as the primary source of information.
Rules should be consistent and agreed upon at both households – Children thrive under routine and structure, especially when in the midst of a confusing divorce or separation. Issues like meal time, bed time, and completing chores should be consistent. This sense of security and predictability for children will help to protect against future manipulation and pitting co-parents against one another. Research shows that children in homes with a unified parenting approach have greater well-being.
Commit to positive talk around the house – As difficult as it may be, model for your children that you wish for them to have a positive relationship with the other parent. Make it a rule to not talk disrespectfully about the other parent and set the same rule for extended family members to follow. Focusing on the positive qualities of your co-parent will also allow your children to do the same. Times of great transition in our lives are also times of great learning, for both you and your children. The transition will test the depth of your maturity and patience. Your children will need you there to support them as they deal with painful emotions. As always, remember that despite the pain of the separation or divorce, you are the parent, and it is your job to rise above the temptations that may present themselves.
If you’re blanking on examples of less-than-great ways to handle your separation, here are some of the most common suggestions for newly separated parents.
Do not unnecessarily burden your child, or expose them to conflict – Of course the pain of a separation will be tough on you, and it is absolutely fine for you to seek support (or therapy of your own). However, no matter how good of a listener they are, your child does not need to be subject to the emotionally charged issues surrounding the divorce or separation. Research shows that allowing children to be in the middle of adult issues promotes a sense of helplessness and insecurity. This rule also stands for attempting to use your children as bartering chips in an all-out war.
Do not be an unbalanced parent – Resist the temptation to be the “cool parent” when your children are with you. This tends to only serve to create a cycle of resentment, hostility and resistance to rules that will surely become an issue later on in life. By allowing your child to wiggle out of responsibility, you might get the desired result at first, but it turns out you are creating more challenges for your children in the long run. Consistency is key in successful transitions from household to household.
Do not immediately jump to conclusions or condemn the other parent when presented with concerning information – When you get word of something your co-parent did from your children, take a breath and remain quiet. Remember that it’s always good to remain neutral when things like this happen, as your child can learn to resent and distrust you if you cheer them on. On this note, pursue clarification with your co-parent if an aspect of their parenting style is troubling to you. Set yourself up for success: If it is difficult to have constructive conversations with the other parent because of your history together, think of it as a working business relationship. Use those positive communication skills, and practice the message you want to get across without pointing fingers or blaming them into a defensive stance where little will get accomplished.
Do not give into guilt – It is easy to see how tempting it may be to allow negative feelings about not being in your child’s life on a full-time basis, or for putting them in a difficult situation to easily convert into acts of overindulgence to “make up” for a “broken home”. Learn how to express empathy for your children and their feelings about the situation, but set limits and remain consistent. Research shows that without limits, children can become self-centered, lack empathy and left unrestrained, will lead to an inflated sense of entitlement.
If it has not become abundantly apparent, working through a separation and figuring out how to co-parent well is decidedly one of the most important events that will impact the development of a child. Equally apparent is the amount of willpower and strength it requires to lead your children through such a challenge into healthy adjustment. You may find it helpful to recruit a counselor who has helped countless families navigate these very same waters either to help process your feelings about the separation, or to help establish a co-parenting strategy with the other parent.
Please feel free to contact Ocean Vista Counseling as we are here to support your family – 386-449-8600 to schedule an appointment today. This blog was written and prepared by Rachel O’Connor.