Over and Over, research suggests that parental conflict is a strong predictor of how children will do following separation and divorce. Your ability to cooperatively co-parent without exposing your kids to ongoing conflict will provide a critical foundation as they navigate this big change in their little lives. Conversely, remaining hostile toward your ex-partner and fighting in front of the kids will certainly not help their self-esteem.
Surely there’s no argument here? Children who endure ongoing fighting and conflict between their parents throughout the separation & divorce period will probably struggle more and have more anxiety and depression than kids who experience separation and divorce via a cooperative parenting arrangement.
So you may say, “Fine. I get it. But how on earth am I supposed to peacefully parent with my kids” other parent when the very reasons that we got divorced still cut so deep and he/she continues to treat me so poorly. The simple answer is, be a grown –up, stay focused and put your kids first.
Below, I explain in more detail what I mean by staying focused. I know that there are situations where some of these suggestions are simply not feasible. They are, by no means, compulsory but rather options to consider, & maybe the chance to think about your situation from a different angle. Maybe there is some way for both of you to co-parent sometimes it just takes time, space and a lot of deep breathing. Putting aside your hurt and pain in front of your Ex will benefit the kids.
Things to Try
1. Seek support for yourself. Your relationship with your children’s other parent has now shifted in a dramatic way. I have never heard of an intimate relationship terminating with the involved parties feeling totally unscathed. Whether you turn to therapy, family, friends, spiritual leaders, or a combination of these, it is critical that you reach out and allow yourself to be supported during this disruptive time. The ultimate goal is to move forward with greater inner peace, try keeping in mind that whilst you & your partner have separated the kids were something truly wonderful that you created together.
2. If at all possible, use a child psychologist /mediator to assist you both to come up with and agree on a parenting plan. Do everything that you can to stay out of courtroom battles. This type of litigation can often leave both parents in a state of high conflict and that energy will result in upset kids. Don’t place your kids in a loyalty conflict where they feel they have to choose between you and your ex.
3. If you are unable to come to a good working relationship with your child’s parent and you do find yourself back in the courtroom time and again, it could be useful to use a child psychologist. Sometimes the family court judge will even appoint one in an effort to help parents develop a less stressful and more cooperative co-parenting partnership. As with all professionals, there are good fits and bad fits. Look for a child psychologist that you feel really gets you and your child’s other parent and is able to remain level-headed, fair, and focused on the best interests of your children. Oftentimes, parental hostilities can cloud judgment and it can be extremely helpful to have a neutral third party assist in ironing out differences in opinion and be a sounding board that keeps you focused on your children rather than each other.
4. Look for signs of distress in each of your children. If you are thinking that your child is doing fine in the midst of your separation, but you begin to notice some differences in behaviour, emotion (including a lack of emotional expression), somatic complaints that can signify stress e.g., headaches, stomach aches, sleep difficulties, violence or other changes, it might be time to re-examine the level of tension and conflict. Please know that most children will be distressed as they go through this process. They’ll have ups and downs, but their overall distress should lessen over time. If it instead starts getting progressively worse, then it’s definitely something that should be explored.
5. Maintain good boundaries when it comes to your relationship with your children and their other parent. While it is critical to come to an agreement on the big stuff, like school and health, you don’t need to agree on all of the little stuff. Each of you will need room to parent as you see fit without the interference of the other. For example, you may have different rules about chores/homework. Neither is right or wrong. They are simply different and each parent has the right to make that call when they’re parenting.
Boundaries, remember that you and your children’s other parent are separated. That means knocking before entering her/his place of residence, or remaining in the car if that is what is asked of you, when you go to pick up your children for their time with you. This also means not bombarding your children with questions about their other parent. Talk with your ex-partner when the kids are not present keep the discussion where it belongs – with the grown-ups.
6. Demonstrate respect toward your children’s other parent. This means using respectful language about and toward him/her, ESPECIALLY if your children are anywhere in earshot…and that means anywhere on your property because they have amazing radars that pick up on this language from long distances.
7. Recognize unresolved feelings. If you are a couple of years out and you still find yourself having strong feelings like hatred toward your children’s other parent, then you have likely got some work to do to really move on with your life without him/her as your partner. Your intimate relationship is over. It is time to forge something that is similar to a business partnership, where your children and their well-being are the focus at all times. If you are focused instead on keeping score, denying your children’s other parent’s requests because you don’t want him/her to get his/her way, or caught up in regular arguments, screaming matches, or other hostilities, go back to #1. Without superhero powers, it is nearly impossible for your children to thrive in the face of this dynamic.
A final word on staying focused as you work toward cooperative co-parenting: on a regular basis, ask yourself “Is this good for my children?” Pause and really think about that. “Is this good for my children.
For readers interested in learning more about what children need during different ages, I still highly recommend Gary Neuman’s Sandcastles book. Another great resource is ‘Mom’s House, Dad’s House by Isolina Ricci.’ This book has a supportive approach and a lot of good information on the grown-up stuff, how to work through the multiple transitions involved in moving through separation and divorce and on to effective co-parenting. As with any recommendations, please use what fits for you and what you need.
Alternatively if you would like some further parenting assistance Call and make an appointment with a Therapia Child Psychologist. 8364-3811.
Neuman, M. G. & Romanowski, P. (1998). Helping your kids cope with divorce the Sandcastles way. New York, NY: Times Books.
Ricci, I. (1997). Mom’s house, dad’s house: A complete guide for parents who are divorced, separated, or remarried. New York, NY: Fireside.