Module 10

Co-Parenting Through the Years

CO-PARENTING THROUGH DIVORCE, SEPARATION AND BEYOND


Joint custody arrangements, especially after an acrimonious split, can be exhausting and infuriating. It can be exceedingly difficult to get past the history of hurts and built-up resentment you may have with your ex. Making shared decisions, seeing one another at drop-offs, or just speaking to someone you'd rather just forget can seem like impossible tasks. But while it's true that co-parenting isn't easy, it's the best way to get your children's needs met and ensure their closeness to both of you. It may be tough, especially at first, but you can learn to effectively co-parent and still keep your sanity and self-respect. It can be helpful to begin thinking of your relationship with your ex as a completely new one—one that is entirely about the well being of your children, and not about either of you. Your marriage or relationship may be over, but your family is not; doing what is best for your children is your most important priority. The first step to being a mature, responsible co-parent is to consistently put your children's needs ahead of your own.


CO-PARENTING WITH YOUR EX AND MAKING SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY WORK

Cooperative parenting with your ex can give your children continued stability and close relationships with both parents—but don't expect it to be easy. In reality, putting aside relationship issues to co-parent amicably can be extremely stressful and difficult. Despite the many challenges, though, it is possible to initiate and maintain a cordial working relationship with your ex for the sake of your children.

You have the power to remain calm, stay consistent, and avoid or effectively resolve conflict with your ex—all in the name of putting your children's needs first.


TEN TIPS FOR DIVORCING OR SEPARATING PARENTS

Divorce is never easy on children, but there are many ways parents can help lessen the impact of their break-up on their children:

  1. Never disparage the other parent in front of your children. Because children know they are "part mom" and "part dad", the criticism can hurt the child's self-esteem.
  2. Do not use your children as messengers between you and your ex. The less the children feel a part of the battle between their parents, the better.
  3. Reassure your children that they are loved and that the divorce or separation is not their fault. Some children assume that they are to blame for their parent's hostility.
  4. Encourage your children to see their other parent frequently. Do everything within your power to accommodate the visitation.
  5. At every step during your divorce or separation, remind yourself that your children's interests – not yours – are most important, and act accordingly. Lavish them with love and attention, white maintaining reasonable rules and authority..
  6. Your children may be tempted to act as your caretaker. Resist the temptation to let them. Let your peers, adult family members, and mental health professionals be your counselors and sounding board. Let your children be children.
  7. If you have a drinking or drug problem, get counseling right away. Impairment inhibits your ability to reassure your children and give them the attention they need at this difficult time.
  8. If you are the non-custodial parent, pay your child support. The loss of income facing many children after divorce or separation puts them at a financial disadvantage that has a pervasive effect on the rest of their lives. It's your responsibility to support your children.
  9. If you are the custodial parent and you are not receiving child support, do not tell your children. It feeds into the child's sense of abandonment and could damage his or her feelings of stability.
  10. If at all possible, do not uproot your children. Stability in their residence and school life helps buffer children from the trauma of their parent's divorce.

CHILDREN'S BILL OF RIGHTS: WHEN PARENTS ARE NOT TOGETHER

Every child has rights, particularly when mom and dad are splitting up. Below are some things parents shouldn't forget -- and children shouldn't let them.

  • You have the right to love both your parents. You also have the right to be loved by both of them. That means you shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to see your dad or your mom at any time. It's important for you to have both parents in your life, particularly during difficult times such as a break-up of your parents.
  • You do not have to choose one parent over the other. If you have an opinion about which parent you want to live with, let it be known. But nobody can force you to make that choice. If your parents can't work it out, a judge may make the decision for them. You're entitled to all the feelings you're having. Don't be embarrassed by what you're feeling. It is scary when your parents break up, and you're allowed to be scared. Or angry. Or sad.
  • You have the right to be in a safe environment. This means that nobody is allowed to put you in danger, either physically or emotionally. If one of your parents is hurting you, tell someone -- either your other parent or a trusted adult like a teacher.
  • You don't belong in the middle of your parents' break-up. Sometimes your parents may get so caught up in their own problems that they forget that you're just a kid, and that you can't handle their adult worries. If they start putting you in the middle of their dispute, remind them that it's their fight, not yours.
  • Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are still part of your life. Even if you're living with one parent, you can still see relatives on your other parent's side. You'll always be a part of their lives, even if your parents aren't together anymore. You have the right to be a child.
  • Concentrate on your schoolwork, your friends, activities, etc. Your mom and dad just need your love. They can handle the rest.
  • Above all: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT AND DON'T BLAME YOURSELF.

Anger Can Block Divorce and Separation Recovery

The feelings of individuals going through a divorce include anger, fear, failure, grief, rejection and guilt--all of them powerful. None of them are positive. Of these, anger seems to be the most severe problem for the parents, for the courts and, most importantly, for the children.

Psychological studies show that many of us have "a feeling of choice" -- one feeling we are the most familiar with and thus the most comfortable with. In America, that "feeling of choice", all too often, appears to be anger. There are various reasons why anger is such a popular feeling in our culture. Anger is often viewed as coming from strength, while fear, failure, grief, rejection and guilt are viewed as weaknesses.


Anger requires a great deal of emotional energy. So it helps us block out and avoid those other uncomfortable feelings. Anger often generates an infusion of adrenaline into our systems causing a sense of power, a bit of a high that can feel particularly good in contrast to the low of depression. Psychological studies also show that there are several stages or steps that individuals who suffer a loss must go through if they are to effectively cope with and recover from the loss. These stages include shock, anger, denial, grief and, acceptance.


Divorce or separation is an enormous loss. Divorcing or separating individuals who do not progress through the stages do not recover well. They do not get on with their lives in a wholesome way. The failure to move on with their lives and, instead, nurture their anger result in ongoing fighting between the parents, ongoing litigation, ongoing legal expenses and ongoing injury to the children. The truth is that if we don't deal with our feelings, our feelings will deal with us.


Feelings sometimes deal with us by causing us to get sick or causing us to do foolish, hurtful things. It is no simple task to acknowledge and confront negative feelings, which is why family court judges so often recommend counseling for parties in divorce or separation cases. While counseling does not always help, litigation driven by anger will definitely not help anyone – especially the children. Too many divorcing and separating individuals are addicted to anger--and litigation is a perfect way for them to feed that addiction.


Do yourself a favor and do right by your children, by learning some effective methods to deal with your anger. Effective coping will minimize the negative effects of this stressful time.

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