Why learning a new dance with your child’s other parent is essential for their development.
We all know the saying: “It takes two to tango, but you’re divorced from your old tango partner.
Yet, you’re still parenting your children with them. Or at least, your children need you to be.
So, how do you continue to dance with your old partner and what does that even look like?
It’s time to learn about co-parenting.
In many ways, this is one of those blogs that would be harder for my parents to stumble upon and read. Not because I’m bitter and angry at how they co-parented. No, that’s not it.
I think it would be hard for them because there wasn’t a lot of information back in the years they were raising us and I’m afraid with their kind hearts, there would be some regret.
Now, I’m in my mid-adult years, I’ve been out of their child-rearing hands for well over a decade, and I’m busy raising two kids of my own.
So, in most ways, a blog on co-parenting for them would be water under the (not fully functional) bridge that probably would’ve been more helpful for them twenty or thirty years ago.
Since there wasn’t a lot of information on co-parenting then, I really don’t fault them for it. I hope only to make it better for the next batch of children of divorce.
However, don’t be fooled. The principles would still benefit my parents and all grown children of adult’s parents too, no matter the level of leftover hurts and pains.
Honestly, the hurt and pain are the main reasons this blog and this concept are so challenging in general.
People don’t get divorced with absolutely no reason. If everything in the home was hunky dory and you were getting along well, you probably wouldn’t be in this situation.
Divorce often comes after something like years of fighting, betrayal, infidelity, abuse, or the inability to see eye to eye and feel in love anymore.
Basically where you’re probably standing now is this: tensions are high between you and your spouse (or ex-spouse) or tensions are not high because you don’t communicate much at all anymore.
Now, you’ve stumbled across a blog where a therapist wants to tell you that successful co-parenting is vital for your children and their development.
Yikes, I know.
Hang with me, though. As with everything we do, there is grace and kindness both for you and your children. We know these kinds of changes take time, especially when you’re coming in with hurt, pain, guilt, confusion, heartbreak, baggage, stress, and/or financial woes.
At What About Me, we focus mostly on your children’s needs, but we believe deeply that you have needs of your own that need tended to as well. Keep reaching out for help where you can and rest assured that we have both you and your children in mind, especially as we talk about co-parenting.
The goal of co-parenting is this: for both parents to be unified in how they approach and raise their children.
Another therapist recently told me that she believes as young as seven years of age (and for intuitive children, even younger), children can quickly note if their parents are co-parenting well. They know if mom and dad have different rules. They know if you’re communicating well.
Not long after that, they know who to go to for what and who to stay away from on certain issues. This becomes a problem long before adolescence but increases as the teenage years approach.
We know you and your spouse are currently in the separation or divorce process or maybe have been divorced for years. We know you do not agree on everything.
What it comes down to is this: you have to put your differences aside to be unified in raising your child or children together.
Sometimes, that may take some sort of counseling or mediation: individual, family, etc.
In some cases, you just have to start by improving communication between mom and dad.
What does this look like? Both parents having the ability to have civil conversations with one another, discuss important issues together, and lower the reactivity level with each other.
It looks like believing the other parent has the best interest of the child in mind and loves them deeply, even if you disagree on a hundred other issues.
As communication improves, its time to make a positive parenting plan.
After all, isn’t the popular saying true? “By failing to plan, you’re planning to fail.”
You may be wondering why I’m suggesting you suddenly need a plan. Think about it like this: It’s likely you used to live under the same roof and could tag each other in when needed, observe the other’s discipline strategies, be a part of each other’s interactions with your kids.
Now, you likely live in two homes and miss out on the natural opportunities to parent together or at least observe and discuss where you agree and disagree.
In two homes, without a plan, you and your child’s other parent may go about some important issues in ways that contradict causing confusion for your children.
Worse than that, if you don’t have the civil communication piece down, you may even do things intentionally to undermine the other parent. The harm this does to a child is unfair and often quite harmful to children. As adults, we have the capabilities to put some things aside for the sake of our children. It’s our job.
Let me be clear: It is never okay to use your child as a pawn to get a point across to the other parent.
Instead, with good communication, you can make a plan for success for your entire family.
After all, your children are worth it.
When you step back and slow those reactions down, you can both agree that each parent wants the best for your kids.
What all should make up this positive parenting plan?
- Conversations about the child/children and their current problems.
- Generally the same household rules and parenting practices. Anything from dating age to schoolwork policies. Remember: children know when and where they can get away with things and rifts can be caused easily between children and the parent whose rules seem stricter or not.
- Agreements to never speak negatively about the other parent to the child.
- Flexibility for the child to make a home in both parental dwellings so they feel peaceful, loved, and at home.
- Collaboration on noticing what’s going on for the children and how they are coping.
- How to put the children’s interests first.
A few questions you may have:
How will your children know you’re doing this well?
To answer this honestly, children pick up on everything! They notice nuances, moods, attitudes. They feel feelings with you and pain.
Your children will know if there is unity when it comes to them because they’ll be well-adjusted, they won’t be able to sneak things past one parent with the other parent, and they’ll have the space to develop their own emotions about what’s going on for them.
Why is this important?
Children still need both parents and what can happen without healthy, strong co-parenting is that the child will be pulled in a million different directions emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.
For instance, children whose parents refuse to collaborate in parenting begin carrying the weight of the parents and their burdens/hurts/pain on their shoulders. They want to be loved and please their parents but may not know how to do so without upsetting the other parent. They’ll become the ones trying to take care of you and this is not how it should be.
Another reason this is important is because children need the space to love both parents. And it’s really hard to do that if one or both of your parents are telling you all the things bad or wrong about the other parent. This is so confusing for a child!
Finally, it’s important because it keeps your children safe, loved, and protected both emotionally and physically. And I know there’s nothing we all want more.
A couple of notes:
1. As with every one of our blogs, we know there are exceptions to the rule. If there is ever a time where your child is in danger with the other parent, please know there are certain pieces of this that do not apply to you. Your child’s physical safety is of utmost importance.
2. Your child’s stepparent is now an essential caregiver in their lives, whether you wanted them to be or not. Animosity toward them will only harm your care for your children and confuse them all the more. It would be in your best interest, as well as your children’s if you would create a relationship of some sort with them, if only to support each other in loving your child.
Remember this as you go: no parents do this perfectly ever, ever, ever, married or not. In parenting, there is always a learning curve, but we always keep practicing.
I don’t know what it will be for you this week. Maybe you’ll set up a call with the other parent to discuss what’s going on for your children when you normally don’t. Maybe you’ll both show up to talk to the therapist together about your kid. Maybe you’ll speak more kindly and support the other parent’s decision when you normally roll your eyes.
Here at What About Me, we’d love to here how your unconventional tango steps are playing out on the dance floor. How is it that you and your child’s other parent are practicing co-parenting well?
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