One of the questions I am asked most often in my field of work is “what’s better for the kids, an amicable divorce or staying together despite constant fighting?” At face value, the answer most people would lean towards is an amicable divorce, right? Problem is, not all divorces are amicable. When two people come together in marriage and ultimately start a family, most don’t do so with the intent of splitting apart. Yet somewhere along the way, life happens. What was once the union of hope can turn into a path to destruction. And in the line of fire are the kids.
Sometimes counseling can save a marriage. It takes a lot of work and commitment on both partner’s ends. I’ve been honored to assist some families who have survived what many deem the worst times of their lives. I’ve also been witnessed to couples who cannot get past hurts in order to live a harmonious life together, and thus decide to split. Even though couples decide to divorce, most still want to be good parents to their children and remain active in their lives. This is when co-parenting begins.
Co-parenting is defined as a parenting situation where two parents work together to raise a child even though they are divorced, separated, or no longer living together.
Sounds easy enough.
Weeeeell that’s the technical definition. I see it played out more like, a parenting situation where two parents have to put their own personal stuff with each other aside in order to do what’s best by their children. If you thought the marriage was hard, welcome to co-parenting. I always say, people divorce for a reason, usually it’s because they don’t like each other. So now imagine having to play on the same team, make conjoint important decisions, and consult with someone you don’t like? About YOUR kids!
But here’s the motivating factor, your children’s emotional well-being. If there’s anything we can usually get down with doing something for, even if it’s playing on the same team with a person, dare I say we despise, it’s for our kids.
Let me share with you what working with children of divorced families has taught me. Children see themselves as part mom, and part dad. Simple concept. So try this, every time you bad mouth one parent, I’d like you to imagine calling your child that name, or describing your child that way to themselves.
Well that’s how kid’s internalize what you say about their other parent. I’d even go as far as to say kids can feel when you even THINK bad thoughts about the other parent. That’s because children are far more intuitive then we give them credit for. Their little minds sense and feel things, we adults sometimes can be desensitized to, especially because we are not made up of their parents, they are. You now that saying, ain’t no one can talk about yo mama but you!
So how does one co-parent successfully? How do we raise children in separate homes making them feel wholly loved? I believe if you hold such animosity towards your ex, rule number one in co-parenting is to go get some help for that. Mental health therapists are a wonderful resource for having someone to listen to you, help you process, problem solve, develop ways to cope with the adjustments of this new life, and can be an overall support system. I suggest surrounding yourself personally with friends and family who support your mission in life, to raise secure children. This means bestie can’t be bad mouthing your ex at the dinner table. Even if you think the kids can’t read lips, or speak Spanish ☺. An atmosphere of no negative parent talk must remain for the children to feel that they really are ok.
So you’re going to therapy, you’re working on your umm… “stuff”, now what? What if your ex-partner does not do the same? Yeah. I know that happens. A lot. But let’s stick to just your commitment to your children ok? Hopefully your co-parenting partner will see the light, but in the event that they don’t, you will know you did your part in this process. You can say you did right by you kids.
Here are some practical guidelines for co-parenting success:
- Treat your co-parenting partner with respect. It provides a good model for your children. Disrespect towards the other parent very well could get played out by the children (and remember the notion I mentioned above, children are both mom and dad, disrespect towards the other parent will most often develop into a lack of self-respect towards themselves too.)
- Resolve conflict without placing the children in the middle. This means being objective about your kids needs and not confusing them with your own. Compromise will need to become your new middle name. Do not use your child as the messenger. Ever.
- Communicate regularly with the other parent. Essentially treat the other parent as you want to be treated. Don’t hold info like your child’s art show award ceremony hostage simply because YOU don’t want to see your ex. Remember your child does.
This may go without saying but there are cases where co-parenting isn’t possible. If there was history of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or severe mental illness co-parenting would actually do more harm. Again, keep in mind the child’s best interest and seek professional help and counsel in navigating these kinds of difficult terrains after divorce.
Raising children between two homes is a challenging task. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Be kind to yourself, you will make mistakes. Be graceful to your ex, he/she will be mistakes. (many, many mistakes, you know waaaaay more than you will). Keep trying. Children only have one childhood, let the them be little. You go on adulting. It’s not always fun, but I promise you, it will be worth it.
Norina Verduzco-Murphy, MSW, LCSW is the kind of therapist you wish was your friend. She is the wife of a military veteran and cancer-survivor as well as a mother of 2; a sweet and gentle boy with a Christ-like spirit and a funny, kind, high-spirited little girl. Norina is the sole owner of a thriving private practice she’s built since 2007 in Upland, CA serving the Eastern Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire. She views her profession as not just a career but a calling. Come by and visit her at norinamurphylcsw.com or at https://www.facebook.com/