TW: Tough love.
This is for those of you in tough-to-handle co-parenting situations. Now, I’m honestly not interested in beating up on divorced or separated parents. I am one myself, after all. However, you may notice as you read that I am not being gentle or circumspect with the concepts outlined here. Co-parenting is a serious job and needs to be addressed with some straight talking. It’s just too important to pussyfoot about.
So, here I am, giving you the goods, straight.
Last chance to bail out.
Now, I firmly believe most parents fall into the category of “doing the best they can with the information they have.” (Yes, there are always exceptions, and I could do another dozen posts about those. Maybe I will some other time.) But what is the information you are working from?
Have you considered the child’s view? Are you thinking and planning for your child’s wellbeing, or are you emotionally reacting to your ex, operating from hurt and anger and perhaps a need to show the ex what a lousy person they are? The child can easily become a pawn in an adult’s game of relationship one-upmanship.
I’m pretty sure you don’t want that. Right?
Of course not. Now, have a think about what you have said and done over recent times.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Okay. Do you say or do things to cast your ex in a bad light? You and a whole lot of other people probably just said a reluctant “yes.” What sets you apart from the parents who point fingers, blame the ex and avoid personal responsibility is a willingness to discover the uncomfortable, own it, then make it right: to fix the path you are on as soon as you can.
Okay, let’s get over the heavy ground as light as we can. After all, this approach worked for the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.
Co-Parenting is hugely challenging at the best of times and can feel like a bad situation all round. I think we all agree on this. The first thing to remember here is that while your relationship didn’t work out, the child – or children – DID.
They are here, they are beautiful, and they have equal shares of DNA from each of you. This child is not your property to fight over, but she is your responsibility to nurture, teach about life and to take care of.
Reminding the child that ‘dad/mom is a jerk’ is not only incredibly unhelpful (what do you expect the child to do with this information, exactly?) but also unfairly stresses the child. Too much of this – and too much is a relatively small amount – can potentially lead them to feel unworthy, undervalued, and emotionally dysregulated. This is not nurture. It is not teaching (nothing helpful, anyway) and is not what most of us would want from the person taking care of us. A child raised in a hostile, vindictive environment is likely to experience lasting poor self-esteem as they internalize and accept all that they hear is ‘bad’ about the other parent. Even if the hostility is an undercurrent rather than ‘in your face’, it’s there and it is destructive.
Consider: Is it fair to ask the child to side with you? Is it fair to ask them to understand your point of view when chances are you don’t understand it all yourself? Is it fair to turn the child against the other parent? No, no and NO!
This child needs to feel safe and loved with you and with your ex. They need to feel they are ‘home’ with both parents, whatever the new situations may be. Now, for sure you can’t control what your ex says and does, but you can lead by example. A great way to do this is to make your home a place of shelter and safety, where the child is not under pressure to make the parent feel better about themselves and can go about the business of being a child. He should be allowed to simply ‘be.’ No hidden agenda.
Here’s another question for you to consider: What do you think is a child’s work in this world? What are they supposed to do?
Many people respond something along the lines of, “A child has to grow up.”
NOPE. Nah ah. Do not collect $200, do not pass “GO.”
The child’s job is… to be a child.
The child needs to learn about their environment in an age-appropriate way. They need to learn where they fit in. Where do they begin and end and where are they safe? What happens when I do ‘this’…? That is the child’s job. To experiment with their environment and see what works and what does not. They learn about consequences, positive and negative. The job is to learn these things naturally, at the appropriate age.
Your child will grow up, but that is what happens, it’s not what they ‘do’.
It is easy to forget these things during the heat of battle with the ex. However, if you can remember that this child is watching you as she listens and learns, you may see opportunities to provide balance, safety and joy in your child’s life.
I recommend that whenever possible, be mindful of the things you are teaching your kids.
Vulnerable and eager to please, your child loves both of you and needs both of you to contribute to her life. The child does not want to take sides. He does not want to hate the other parent. She does not want to be, nor should she need to be, the ‘parent’ to her parent.
You might be thinking, “What on Earth is she talking about??”
Really, this also happens more than you might think.
Have you ever noticed the child who looks after the parent? I bet you have. What does that look like? Well, there are a number of tell-tale signs, but here is one example: The parent tells the child things they are not old enough to hear, things about the relationship, the other parent and then leans on them for support. “She’s like a little adult!” “He’s old for his years.”
Seriously, if this is you – and I am counting on you to be honest with yourself – then please, for the wellbeing of your child, STOP. Allow your child to be a child! It’s not too late to turn things around.
Disclaimer: If there is real and present danger of abuse for the child and/or you from the ex, any attempts at co-parenting may need to be court ordered and monitored by a third party, probably a lawyerly type. My blog posts are not for these cases. I am writing for the adult who wants to put the child first and is willing to work on navigating the sometimes-difficult terrain so their child has the best start in life they can have.
Much love to you, oh struggling parent. I see you, and you are doing your best.
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