Dr. Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. shares his views on Co-Parenting
Divorce is not an easy process and is always a stressful process – for all involved. Questions are normal about why, how, who’s to blame and, what now?
Children, in particular are left wondering about where they’ll be living, are they to blame, where will their stuff be, when will they see their mother, father, grandparents, and other family members, and above all, will they continue to be loved? Children want to feel secure, will benefit from consistency and routine in their lives, healthy role examples for their own future relationships, and a calm, relatively conflict-free home(s) environment.
To help your youngsters move through the initial stages of divorce, it’s essential to focus on and magnify your co-parenting relationship, while redefining your personal relationship with each other. Your role now is best focused on your children’s well being. Focusing on your former spouse’s, bad or good, behavior only serves to derail you from completely acting in your children’s best interests.
When you stop and fully absorb the questions your children have about their new life, and I hope you will, you will recognize the value of creating a collaborative relationship with their other parent, regardless of what the two of you think of, or feel for, each other.
This means it’s time for mature, emotionally intelligent, self-control. It is time for you to seek out coaching if need be, to learn how to set aside your strong and totally understandable anger, hurt, fear and sadness…for the benefit of your children. Respectful communication will go a long way, regardless of how you feel toward your ex spouse. The focus now is on your children. To not do so is to burden your children with emotions that you can’t handle as an adult. How can they as children? They are not your messenger, your coach or therapist, caretaker or emotional receptacle. They are entitled to develop their own relationship with their other parent free of your influence.
In order to promote your children’s emotional health, so that one day they say, “Yeah, my parent’s divorced but they were still my loving parents – regardless of what their relationship was, they always put me first,” you would be wise to recognize that your contact and communication with your ex is always only about one thing, fostering your children’s wellbeing.
Wise couples who divorce with this in mind, co-parent as a team – yes, even if they don’t like each other, or actually loathe each other. Seek guidance from a coach to help you collaboratively and cooperatively set rules and discipline methods for your children to experience as uniform. This will lead the two of you to make a concerted effort to develop mutual decision making when it comes to key areas of your children’s lives, such as visitation, finances, holidays, education, medical attention, a need to change up a visitation schedule, etc.
Divorce is not easy, nor is it supposed to be. Neither is marriage. Neither is parenting. Neither is life. To make this transition a healthier one for your children and for you, avoid DALPO. What’s that?
Demanding, insisting, “shoulding” that your ex spouse act or behave in a certain manner, as you determine s/he “must”
Awfulizing about your ex spouse’s behavior, thinking it’s horrible and terrible – your children won’t benefit from that, nor will you
Low frustration tolerance, meaning, telling yourself you “can’t stand it” or “can’t tolerate it.” The “can’t stand it-itis” syndrome isn’t true. You may not like it, you may prefer s/he act differently, but you can bear it. Your children will learn healthy ways of tolerance and resilience from watching you anti-awfulize
Personally rating yourself, your ex and your life. Substitute healthier unconditional self-acceptance, other acceptance and life acceptance. This doesn’t mean you like something, but just because you don’t like it, you can still accept it. Again, this is a healthy message for your children in a difficult situation in their lives.
Overgeneralizing your situation with words like “always” or “never,” “all” or “nothing.” No mater how bad (or for that matter, good) your current situation is, everything changes. Teach your children to remain hopeful and instead of angrily responding to a struggle, one that doesn’t “always happen to us,” see it as a chance to learn and grow.