6 Tips for Harmonious Co-Parenting, Children of Divorce
As they say, parenting is the hardest thing one may ever have to do, this statement becomes two fold when parenting as a single parent. According to The American Psychological Association, being a child of divorce or raised by a single parent is also associated with many risks to long term emotional health, and even poorer academic performance, poor view of marriage and relationships. We offer the following guidelines for parenting situations where both parents are non-abusive, an entirely separate list of guides should exist for situations where there has been a history of any form of abuse.
Lovingly Encourage The Time Your Child Spends with The Other Parent
When we as parents aren’t actively encouraging our child to love and interact with both parents then we are injuring the child and his or her relationship with the other parent. What does it mean to lovingly encourage? It means that if your child comes home from a weekend or evening with his or her other parent that you treat she or he with positive regard. Do a check in, and ask with enthusiasm what were the highlights, follow this up with an encouraging statement. This is not doing investigative work and trying to learn details about the other parent. Or on the other end, some parents may be non-communicative with the child after he or she returns from time with the other parent. Children can be subtle creatures, when we fail as parents to embrace with positivity the relationship our child has with others they will likely end up feeling guilty about their relationship with mom or dad. This lays the ground work for Parental Alienation which damages not only the other parent but most importantly the child.
Never discuss custody details or visitation arrangements within ear shot of the children
Even if you and the co-parent have an iron clad custody arrangement there may be times when the need for alterations may come up, it is imperative that these discussions happen away from the children as these are adult discussions. When a child hears mom or dad crying that the other parent wants to have them over Christmas they will most likely feel a sense of guilt. Children hear and see much more than we imagine and it is injurious when they see and hear their primary custodial parent crying or complaining about time with the other parent. This means that they will feel guilty or uncertain about time spent with that parent who is outside of the home and this too carves the pathway to a lifetime of guilt and shame, this too is also often a contributing factor in both long term emotional damage for the child as well as parental alienation.
Genuinely assume your child’s co-parent has good intentions and is an asset to your child’s life.
This is hard, all of these are hard! There are likely huge differences between you and your child’s other parent, some of them leading to the reasons your own romantic relationships failed, It’s important to keep in mind that your child is a product of both of you. To assume good intentions means that if your child comes home crying and complaining about reading time that mom or dad made them do that you don’t sigh and complain to the child about “no good mom or dad.” Instead even though you may encourage other activities to your child that you sooth the child and support those parenting efforts by the other parent, recognizing that your co-parent may have some talents and interests to offer to the child that are separate from yours.
Do some honest appraisal of what may or may not benefit the child and separate that from what you want.
This means that the vacation that mom or dad wants to take the child on which falls on your visitation may be something positive for the child, while we may not want to give up that day or weekend with the child we must do an honest assessment of what is in the child’s best interest in each situation. This may mean exposure to family time, activities, interests and places that are unfamiliar to us and at times inconvenient yet we do this in the name of the child’s health and wellbeing.
Gifts and the part-time parent
The sad truth is that many of the emotionally injurious acts that happen in co-parenting situations happen veiled in the guise of love. More often than not, both parents love the child and want to spend time with he or she and fear the time spent away from the home with the other parent. It may be natural to envy your co-parent’s gifts and spending power but reducing time or putting unreasonable limits on each other’s capacity to relate to your child in a way that nurtures and enhances them must be the primary goal. Also, it is easy to feel that the non-custodial parent comes in and gets to enjoy the fun times of long weekends and adventures with the children while the challenges of the day to day living are left in the home, this is a space where it is helpful to separate your feelings from what is good for the child.
Do your emotional homework!
Divorce and separation leave a long line of emotional reactions from hurts, sadness, anger, abandonment, confusion. These feelings must be worked through and resolved to the best of your capacity, they will not vanish on their own. The single most important piece of advice that can be offered is to deal with the emotional aftermath in a way that supports your ability to truly offer supportive parenting to your child’s experiences with the other parent, whether this is by seeking counseling or therapy or some other means, do your emotional homework
Sharing love and time with children after a divorce or separation can be a huge challenge for parents, it is particularly dire that this be navigated in a sensitive way that mutually supports and respects the love and parental rights of both parents. When parents fail to create an atmosphere of parental collaboration it can have long lasting effects on the child’s mental and emotional health as well as concept of relationships later on in life. By following the suggestions above, we make it more likely that these effects can be lessened and we become an example of a successful divorce and co-parenting family.
In good health and love,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Contributed by Nicole Monteleone LPC, NCC, NBCC
830 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233