When relationships and marriages break down, it is acrimony between parents which is the most damaging aspect of the separation or divorce for children. Everything should be done for parents to go beyond being ex spouses to becoming co-parents.
Children’s Divided Loyalties
I see many separated and divorced couples whose conflict continues through the contact arrangements for the children. There are a number of factors which contribute to this; one is that children generally love and feel loyal to both their parents and want to keep their approval, consequently they often tell each parent what they think that parent wants to hear.
Of course the problem with this is that often what the child has told each party is not only different but is conflicting, and each parent thinks they know for sure what the child’s wishes are.
It is a wise parent who understands that children can and often do have mixed feelings makes allowances for the kind of misunderstandings that can arise from that.
Different Parenting Styles
Another source of conflict is when parents can’t accept that it is okay for them to have different parenting styles. Of course it makes life easier all round if they have the same general approach and values, but often part of the reason for them separating in the first place is their different approaches to life which have emerged.
It is helpful if they do not take up a stance of seeing their way as THE way, and the other parents way as wrong. I have seen many parents unwittingly create a lot of conflict by trying to impose their ways on their separated spouse.
A word of caution: although it doesn’t make either party right or wrong if parents have different approaches to parenting, it really does make a difference to the child if there is some degree of consistency in terms of bedtimes and TV use etc., to avoid getting into a “good parent/bad parent” game, which certainly is not good for anyone.
Co-Parenting Phone Call
Another thing which is not helpful is when parents make arrangements via the children, or during handover at the end of a contact visit. These times are often tense and likely to result in misunderstandings. Also it is better not to hold discussions in front of the children because this can often be tense for them.
A weekly phone call with the following agenda is helpful not only for avoiding oversights in information sharing, but it also helps the non resident parent keep in touch with what is happening in the child’s life.
- The Good Stuff: things you are pleased and positive about
- Medical Issues or Concerns
- School Related Issues: performance, behaviour, homework, concerts, meetings etc.
- Activities: hobbies, groups, sports etc.
- Caretaking: decisions around things like sleeping, eating, computer use, grounding, privileges etc.
- Behaviour: concerns at home or in school, discipline, how you handle/manage this..
- Scheduling: Diary dates for social events, planned trips or holidays, visits from relatives etc.
- Day and time of next call
If you would like further information about co-parenting email firstname.lastname@example.org