Often I meet with a parent and hear that the hope, the goal when splitting up from their ex partner, was to get along- to work everything out by just agreeing and doing what is best. Somehow we think that we will be less conflictual following our parting. If that worked for you and your ex, great job and you likely do not need to read this. If it didn’t and conflict escalated or at minimum did not reduce after the divorce- this is for you.
I can’t tell you how many times that this hope for never ending cooperation does not work well over time, at least until parents do some of their own work on healing, letting go of anger or retribution and move forward with a new identity. Families change, children get older and have new activities, new partner enter the picture- so many factors can make predicting how life will be 3 years from now difficult and that dream of cooperation over time a challenge.
I am not a lawyer- (please always collaborate with your lawyer when in doubt) but I work with many families where I have had to help back that truck of low structure up. If I were to advise any parents starting a divorce process, I would encourage a parenting plan to outline at least some things specifically so arguments or confusion are minimized over time.
I am big on structure and predictability in these situations. Outlining holidays and staying as close the schedule as possible reduces lots of heartache both for parents and most importantly for the children. It is easy and almost unconscious at times that parents will mention their hopes of July 4th fireworks with them this year or “let the cat out of the bag” on an upcoming vacation to entice the child. This puts the child in a very difficult position wherein they may want to advocate for themselves for a change- which then causes conflict with a parent or a parent to feel ganged up on or “less than.” With younger children in particular, they are not equipped to handle the internal feelings and confusion. This is what we specifically try to address in family coaching- how parents can take their child’s perspective and help equip them with needed skills for the lives, that remember, where we adults placed them.
What do the arguments do to our child? Keep them stuck, being concerned about how to mediate or please parents, find a way to reduce YOUR conflict. It is a no win for the child. They either end up disappointing a parent, and/or angry, anxious, confused or not getting their own needs met.
If you find yourself in this situation, take heart. You can make it better.
A specific parenting plan helps but a revision may not be possible. Changing the dance of communication, learning new skills and making agreements is the answer. Try co-parent coaching.
Make agreements on holidays and follow the agreement. Work with a coach or mediator so that emotions are not leading- remember- we want a positive business relationship. You could alter the agreement over time because for sure needs change but the AGREEMENT is the agreement. Learning the process of making agreements (another post) helps but our word and follow through relies on both parents agreements in good faith.
3. I always encourage parents that the residential parent at the time of an activity is the lead parent at activities- even if all parents are there.
This keeps it clear for the child who they go to and they can relax and enjoy everyone’s participation. I have seen chidlrne who used to be super caretaking of each parent to reduce the stress at an activity become much more relaxed when parent agree to the above. It takes practice and the risk of trusting your ex partner to act in good faith but it can work.
4. Be very careful about talking about plans you are making before you have agreement for sure. The fore knowledge of something “maybe” but then doesn’t occur again place your child in that no win situation.
5. Make sure you are making joining statement about the child’s life and time with the other parent- even making positive joining comments ABOUT the other parent. You cannot imagine how powerful these practices are in helping your child live their full life experience rather than feel like they have two separate lives.