By Christina McGhee
One of the most damaging aspects of divorce consistently emphasized by researchers, mental health professionals and family courts conflict between parents. When children are exposed to heated debates, badmouthing, insults and high conflict situations, they suffer tremendously. Kids literally view themselves as half mom and half dad. When they hear jabs, insults or negative comments about a parent, children tend to view it as something bad about them. This can greatly affect a child’s self image and self esteem.
“If my Mom or Dad is a bad person,
what does that make me?”
Ongoing exposing to parent conflict can:
- Create loyalty conflicts (feeling like they must choose one parent over the other).
- Increase a child’s feelings of fear and insecurity.
- Damage children’s self esteem and sense of self.
- Keep kids from successfully adjusting or make short-term reactions worse.
- Lead to more serious long-term reactions and acting out.
- Leave children feeling like divorce is their fault or they are cause of parent problems.
Something to consider…
When I speak to separated and divorcing parents, I often tell them that regardless of how you feel about your Ex, no matter how long you have been divorced, when you have children with someone, there is one part of your marriage vows that will always ring true:
“Till death do you part”
Although parents aren’t thrilled to hear this, it is very true. While your relationship as a married couple has ended, your roles as Mom and Dad will last a lifetime. Kids NEED and DESERVE to have a nurturing, supportive relationship with BOTH parents.
Even after your children are grown, plan on them wanting both of you to be involved in holidays, graduations, weddings and the birth of grandchildren. Parenting is a lifetime commitment and your children have a right to have both of you actively involved in their lives.
“So how do you continue to parent your children
with someone you felt you couldn’t be married to?”
Tips for establishing a successful co-parenting
relationship with your Ex
Shield kids from conflict
Often contact between parents initially is difficult and can be a breeding ground for open warfare. If you, or the other parent, are having difficulty avoiding conflict try to create other options that may decrease potential confrontations. Arrange for pickups or drop offs to take place in a neutral setting. Also make sure children are not in listening range when telephone conversations are being held with the other parent. If necessary use written communication, voicemail, text messages, email or faxes to share information with your child’s other parent.
Establish a business-like relationship with your Ex
Your relationship as husband and wife has ended; however, you both will continue to have a lifelong investment in the well-being of your children.
Avoid conversations that address old issues, personal information or encourage conflict. If you are having difficulty separating your emotions from the situation or person, ask yourself how you would handle a similar situation with a fellow co-worker. Sometimes it may be helpful to think about how you would want the situation handled if the roles were reversed.
Change your expectations
Following divorce some parents try to control one another through resorting to manipulation, confrontation and bad mouthing. Don’t put energy into trying to control your Ex or the situation. The most you can do is be the best parent you can be and strive to influence your children in a nurturing supportive way.
Control your anger
If you find yourself reacting to something your Ex has said or done, whenever possible find some way to distance yourself from your immediate response. Give yourself time to vent to a friend, sort through your feelings and cool off. Approach your Ex at a later time once you have sorted through things. Instead of waging a personal attack, stay focused on addressing the issue. During times of disagreement, do your best to keep your cool.
Be supportive of the other parent’s role in your child’s life
Remember just because your Ex wasn’t a good partner doesn’t mean they can’t be a good parent. Speak positively about the other parent to your children when possible. (If you can’t, you are probably better off not saying anything.)
Resolve your feelings and issues
Find some way to address your issues related to the divorce verses hanging onto the anger and hurt. Moving forward is important for both you and your children. If you are having difficulty find some help.
Stay in charge of communication between households
Inform the other parent of school functions, important details, extracurricular activities and special events whenever possible for your child’s benefit.
When possible be flexible and willing to compromise
Where children are concerned plans are always subject to change. Be open to changes or agreements which serve your children’s best interest. It also sets a good example for children when parents are willing to work things out.
When the going gets tough
While you may not have control over the choices your Ex makes, you do have control over the choices you make. When situations are highly conflictual or difficult keep in mind some of the following suggestions.
Keep discussions with your Ex focused on your kids.
If your Ex brings up old arguments or issues don’t get into a debate over who is right and who is wrong. Refocus the conversation on the issue at hand and stick to the task, parenting your children.
If face-to-face contact is too difficult use email.
Email can be a good way to exchange ideas or information about the children and minimize conflict. However, stay mindful that exchanging a series of angry emails with each other will not make things better for your children.
Don’t retaliate when your Ex launches a personal attack.
Even though it may be hard when your Ex says or does something to push your buttons, take the high road and avoid reacting to your ex spouses inappropriate behavior.
Find safe and healthy ways to vent/process your feelings.
Dealing with conflict can be draining. Make sure you are handling your feelings and that you have appropriate outlets, as well as, a supportive network.
Provide kids with consistency and stability
Regardless of what the other parent does or doesn’t do, focus on what you can control not what you can’t. While you may not agree with the other parent’s choices children will still fare better if they have a loving stable relationship with at least one parent.
Don’t get worked up over the small stuff
When emotions are running high it is easy for issues to become much bigger than they actually are. To gain perspective ask yourself what difference will this make six months from now? A year?
Avoid talking about issues or arrangements during drop-offs or pick-ups
Schedule mutually agreeable times to either talk over issues or choose to share information by email. Pick ups and drop off can be emotional times for children and parents.
When abuse has occurred
When abuse of a child or parent has occurred the recommendations regarding co-operative parenting change drastically. First and foremost, the safety of children and or an abused parent are the primary issues.
If your situation involves any type of abusive situation seek help immediately for you and your children. When abusive relationships have occurred limited contact between parents, as well as, children, may be in a child’s best interest. Legal support may also play a significant role in keeping everyone safe. Keep in mind that consistent documentation can be very important in these types of situations.