Can children be happy being raised by just one parent? Of course. But children benefit greatly by being raised by both parents. That is why it is critical to understand how to effectively co-parent with your ex-spouse.
Too many times one parent can end up alienating the other parent, possibly inadvertently. The parent may think that they are protecting their children but that’s not always the case.
Parents have different views on what’s best for their children. One parent may think that children need to participate in team sports while the other may think that activities in music or the arts should be a priority.
When a parent is expected to pay for their share of the children’s activities whether or not they think it’s best for their children, a struggle can ensue.
Struggles over money or parenting time impact children
They feel the tension.
Even when parents try to hide it, kids usually know how their parents are getting along.
Children sometimes feel more allied with the parent who has more custody and spends more time with them (the custodial parent).
The children can feel that they are betraying the custodial parent by being close to the non-custodial parent.
Children may, out of loyalty to the custodial parent, choose to spend less and less time with the non-custodial parent. This scenario can happen slowly, over time and eventually result in the children seeing very little of the non-custodial parent.
Not spending time with both parents can be damaging for children
Research shows that children who spend at least 35% of their time with each parent, rather than live with one and have visits with the other, have better relationships with both of their parents, and do better academically, socially and psychologically.
Many very well-meaning parents get into this situation. By the time the children are teens, they are so focused on their own lives, they may not want to work on the relationship with their non-custodial parent.
You may find yourself dealing with oppositional teens by yourself when you really need their other parent.
At any stage of your children’s lives, co-parenting counseling can help heal the relationship with the non-custodial parent.
Therapists who provide co-parenting counseling should have experience working with families dealing with divorce and where one parent has a strained relationship with the children.
These therapists work with the parents, either individually or together, and also bring the children into the counseling as needed.
Without blame, the therapist assesses how the family got to this point and how to change the communication, behavior, and relationships of the members of the family so that they work and function better together.
Here are tips so that you don’t get into the trap of distancing your ex-spouse and creating problems for your children:
1. Don’t discuss your struggles with your children
Never discuss struggles you are having with your ex in front of your children, even if they ask about them.
If your children ask about an issue, let them know that you are working it out with their mother or father and they don’t need to worry about it.
2. Encourage your children to talk to the other parent
If your children complain about their other parent, encourage them to talk to him or her about it.
Let them know that they need to work things out with their mom or dad and that you can’t do that for them.
3. Make sure your children feel loved by both the parents
Reassure your children that their other parent loves them and that neither of you is right or wrong, just different.
4. Don’t make your children pick sides
Don’t let your children feel that they have to take sides. Keep them out of the middle of adult issues and speak directly to your ex about anything related to money, schedule, etc.
5. Exercise control when you speak to your children
Be careful about how you communicate with your children. Avoid statements like:
- “Daddy doesn’t want to pay for your ballet lessons.”
- “Your mother always drops you off late!”
- “I don’t have money to pay for that because I spend 30% of my time working to pay alimony to your mother.”
- “Why isn’t Dad coming to see your basketball game?”
If you find yourself doing any of the above, apologize to your children and let them know you are working on changing the way that you interact with their mom or dad.
Choosing this path is hard but it is worth it
It’s difficult to take the high road but it really makes a difference to the well-being of your children. In addition, you will find that your life will be better in a number of ways. You’ll have less stress in your life and will build a well-functioning partnership with your ex so that you don’t have to handle your children’s issues alone.
You’ll find you look forward to functions or teacher conferences instead of dreading them. You don’t have to best friends with your ex or celebrate holidays together but having a good working relationship is one of the most important ways to ensure that your children not only survive your divorce but thrive in your post-divorce family.