Saturday, July 05, 2014

How To Be A Better Parent After Divorce

Divorce presents us with problems that don’t have easy answers.  The advantages of co-parenting after divorce are clear- by both parents participating in decision making- both parents are actively engaged in a child’s life.  But for most parents, having a low or no conflict relationship after the bitter struggle of divorce is just not realistic.  But if parents don’t consciously try to reduce conflict, one or the other may take the matter back to court which will cause stress and chaotic uncertainty while the case is pending, and may produce undesired results from the court who may modify custody in a cookie cutter way which worsen the situation.  Certainly taking an ex back to court to modify a custody order will cost a lot of money and will only worsen the relationship between the ex-spouses and make it even harder for them to communicate and co-parent in the future.
One fact is that after the divorce, parents no longer have an incentive to compromise.  Often there is one parent who is more cooperative at the beginning, but after some arguments and insults, they no longer cooperate and the relationship slides into chaos.
Its important to view co-parenting as both a short and long term venture.  Very few divorced couples have respectful, cooperative  relationships soon after the divorce.  But if you feel that this is how it will always be, you shouldn’t give in to your more negative emotions.  While you may never consider each other best friends, most parents eventually settle into a civil relationship for the sake of the children.  To do this earlier than later, it is helpful to keep the following eight Tips in mind:

Tip 1:  Redefine your relationship
Try to see you ex not as friend, but as a business partner, and your child as a business.

Tip2:  Choose your battles
Recognize that you have some control over your child, but that there are some things you cannot control.  You can only do your best with the control you have. 

Tip 3:  Respect your ex’s relationship with your child
You have a unique relationship with your child, but your ex has an equal and separate relationship.  Unless there is abuse, your ex’s relationship is important to your child’s wellbeing.  Don’t interfere or sabotage that relationship.  This means not just overt sabotage such as keeping the child from having contact with the other parent, but also subtle sabotage such as bad-mouthing your spouse in front of your child.

Tip 4:  If you have a legitimate concern about your ex’s parenting, try to be diplomatic in how you bring it up.
Instead of “You should..” try “Perhaps just consider..”
Instead of “I think you ought to..”, try “Obviously, its up to you..”
Instead of “The way I do things..”, try “In case this is helpful..”
Instead of “Try it this way..”; try “It may not work for you, but here’s something that worked for me..”
Instead of “Here’s the solution”, try “Of course you can figure out your own solutions, but here’s an idea if you want to consider it..”
The point is, before you contact the other parent, mentally prepare yourself to resist the urge to explode in anger, call names, or shut down the communication.  Whether you succeed in avoiding a fight over the issue or not, you will find a little effort on your part will go a long way to your concern actually being addressed.

Tip 5:  Make it a point to ensure your ex is included in your child’s life.
If you get information about an event in your child’s school, extracurricular activities and other important occasions in your child’s life, inform the other parent as soon as possible.  It is hard to be angry with someone who is making a real effort to keep you in the loop.

Tip 6:  Be flexible.
Work with your ex to accommodate special occasions.  Life is not always on a schedule.  Be willing to switch weekends, or modify pick up or drop off times.  Hopefully the other parent will reciprocate when you want some flexibility.  But even if they don’t, remember your flexibility is often for your children’s benefit, not the other parent’s.

Tip 7:  Co-parenting does not mean “equal parenting”.
Just because you are sharing time with your child doesn’t mean that each parent will be all things to a child during that time.  We all fall into natural roles in parenting and that doesn’t change because of an artificial court order.  One parent may more naturally be a more emotionally nurturing parent.  Another may be a more experientially stimulating parent.  There are many roles to play as a parent and we have to acknowledge that we can’t be all things at all times.  It doesn’t make your ex a “bad parent” if they aren’t playing the same roles as you.  Your child will thrive if all aspects of parenting are given by both parents.

Tip 8:  Whenever you are making a decision about your child, put her best interest as the first consideration.
Try to separate your personal issues with your ex from the decision you make for your child.  Don’t say “no” just because your ex says “yes”.   Especially soon after a divorce, you may need to get the advice of a disinterested person such as family, friends, clergy or a therapist.  When making decisions, you need to hold your child’s best interest in mind and put down the old emotional baggage.

Most parents want to do what is right for their children, but the intense emotions of divorce often cloud their views.  Being a successful co-parent means being self-disciplined in your communications with the other parent and raising your child’s needs above your own hurt.  It may be difficult now, but if you keep trying your best, co-parenting will get easier over time.