Co-Parenting: From your Kids Perspective

July 16, 2010

If you’ve been to our Second Saturday program, you’ve probably heard me say “It’s parental conflict, not divorce that hurts kids the most.” I didn’t totally get how it feels for a child until last month when I got “caught-in-the-middle” myself at my daughter’s college graduation.

That Saturday morning I’d sat teary-eye with another single mom/friend as we proudly watched our daughters’ commencement. Except for the barbs my friend made about her ex, we had a lovely time reminiscing and celebrating our daughters milestone. The next morning, as my daughters and I were walking to breakfast, a car honked at us and a proud dad (my friend’s ex) was excitedly waving hello.  We exchanged glowing words about our daughters ( and yes, he did sneak in a barb about his ex) until the traffic light turned green and he drove off.

To my amazement, I felt a stab in my gut, seemingly for no reason. Then a few seconds later I said to my daughters: “I finally get what it must be like for you. I like both parents, but had a stab of guilt and betrayal as I talked to the dad. I am so sorry for how this all must have felt for you all these years.” They gave me an appreciative, knowing look as we squeezed hands and continued on our walk. For my daughters’ sake I hope I never forget that morning.

In honor of National Child-Centered Divorce Month I thought I’d share helpful excerpts from  Co-Parenting After Divorce, an article appearing on the Colorado State University Extension page. Here’s hoping it helps you help your kids.

Children need to be loved by both parents
Popular media and educational resources in the past focused on issues related to “single parenting” and “custodial parenting,” but the times have changed and family life professionals and researchers now acknowledge that, in most cases, maintaining a relationship with both parents is vitally important to a child’s development and well-being throughout his lifetime. Current research and parenting resources now emphasize “co-parenting” as well as the unique challenges of being a “residential” or “non-residential” parent. Additionally, there is a growing body of information related to helping divorced parents stay connected with their children from a distance, whether it’s living two hours apart or in different countries.

Focus on children instead of ex-spouse
To enable children to maintain a strong relationship with both parents following divorce, parents must learn to co-parent in a way that fosters children being able to comfortably communicate with, visit or live with each parent at various times. Focusing on the needs of the children rather than on one’s ex-partner is typically the best way to accomplish this. A workable relationship is one that involves both parents negotiating the day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year needs of their children. Many people effectively deal with difficult situations in the workplace, using negotiation and teamwork skills, yet neglect to utilize these same skills with their ex-spouse.

Post-divorce conflict negatively impacts children
A major stressor for children is persistent conflict between parents following divorce. Because divorcing parents may use their children to manipulate and/or control each other around a variety of personal, social, and financial issues, it is not uncommon to see an increase in children’s risk factors for behavior problems, depression, delinquency, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, school failure and dropout and suicide. Parents who express their rage toward their former spouse by asking children to carry hostile messages, by denigrating the other parent in front of the child, or by prohibiting mention of the other parent in their presence are creating stress and loyalty conflicts in their children. Not surprisingly, when parents encapsulate their conflict and do not put their children in the middle, these children do not differ from children whose parents had low or no marital conflict.

Working together helps children adjust to divorce
Because children look to their parents for signs that the family can and will get through this difficult period in their lives, divorced parents who work together are more successful at meeting their children’s short and long-term needs. Divorce can be very frustrating and painful, but both parent’s number one goal should be to shelter their children from post-divorce conflict. Being mindful of their children’s needs will ensure a more successful adjustment to the divorce and the changes the family is experiencing.

Wishing you many happy moments  as you and your children create a whole new way of being a family…

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