I continue to be baffled at the way some people treat their children’s “other” parent. As if they only love half of their child and not the “other” parents half. As if children can be split in half and remain healthy and whole. Parental alienation is such a damaging thing with lifelong effects. There are songs about it and millions of shares, blogs, books and videos which truly shows the state of this challenge in our culture today. So many innocent kids stuck dealing with the consequences of their parents messes.
I personally have experienced both a positive and negative relationship with the “other” parents in my children’s and step children’s lives and I’ve and witnessed the incredibly damaging effects and the beautiful triumphs in both scenarios.
Here are 5 quick and simple things I know from my own trial and error will lead to easier transitions:
1. MORE QUESTION MARKS: Regardless of how much time the kids spend at each house, good co-parenting is a 50/50 job. You are in a collaboration not a delegation. Any parent who “demands” anything is going to suffer and be disappointed. Especially when the kids begin to have a third party opinion to throw in the hat. So much of this can be accomplished by a simple change in your communication style. For instance…
Try = “Is 5:00 still good for me to drop the kids today?” Instead of = “I will be dropping the kids at 5:00.”
Try = “Can you help me understand why you have signed Bobby up for Synchronized Swimming? Instead of “I can’t believe you signed Bobby up for Synchronized Swimming!”
See the difference? One invites conversation, one invites offense. Tone is important. Use manners, please and thank you. Pause, re-read your texts and emails. Is it how you want to be treated? Breathe and chose your words with compassion and grace – not authority and entitlement. This is not a competition or power struggle – EVEN IF YOU ARE DIVORCED, PARENTING IS STILL A PARTNERSHIP. You may have ended your marriage but you still, permanently, have a responsibility to your kids.
2. LEAVE THEM ALONE: If you are the custodial parent (with the kids more than 60% of the time), do not bug the kids or their other parent when they are with them unless it’s an emergency. Seriously. If the kids reach out to you, of course, text back, say hello, respond, but when you have the kids the majority of the time, it’s just plain rude to keep checking in and stopping by (especially unannounced) when they are at their other parents house.
Let them have their time together. If you are not getting along already, it’s really hard on the kids to feel the tug-o-war tension in the air. Not to mention, it makes you seem needy and insecure. Go find a good book and enjoy your chance to rest and reset. The kids will be so excited to see you when they get back to your house then too. Let them miss you.
3. REQUIRE RELATIONSHIP: As kids get older and activities and priorities change the “regular” parenting schedule may become more challenging. However, allowing a child to think they can just skip a visitation at their whim or indefinitely not see another parent is incredibly harmful for all of you. Just because life got busy or maybe they don’t “feel” like it anymore, is going to backfire on you when they get older and blame you for manipulating things and keeping them from their other parent. Of course all situations are different and delicate but allowing an ongoing complete break in a relationship (unless their is physical abuse of course) is completely immature. Relationship requires proximity.
I’ve heard it said “What am I supposed to do? I can’t physically put them in the car.” No you can’t, but you are a parent and you can require your kids to communicate with their other parent to create a plan for their relationship to continue. Kids need a connection to both parents. Lunch on Sunday afternoons, regular phone visits or emails. Something that keeps communication flowing. Distance causes so much disaster and assumption and if you are in the middle of it, you are going to feel the pain and consequences too at some point. If they are old enough to begin to have an opinion about their schedule, they need to be responsible enough to work out to an amicable relationship plan with their other parent and yes, you need to help and require them to do so.
NOTE: All the court dates and signatures and rulings in the world will not do this for you. Relationships will only heal and thrive after divorce with forgiveness, respect, maturity and appreciation for each others roles. If you just keep going back to court, you are going to be left broke, and empty and worst of all, you are losing time to fix it all while your kids still live with you. You only have a small window of time that you can help them process your divorce into positivity and progress, not shame, anger and setback.
4. DO NOT BACKSEAT PARENT: If a kid calls you to complain about a rule or situation at their other home. Tell them to go work it out with the parent in charge. Three Main Reasons:
A: You need to be resting and doing other things on your off days so you are better for your kids during your on days. Refereeing from across town is a waste of everyone’s time.
B: This is a great chance for your kids to develop problem solving, coping and communication skills on their own. It’s not your job to make them comfortable all the time, it’s your job to teach them to create their own comfort no matter what’s happening around them.
C: This totally undermines the other parent. If it’s something significant, talk to them about it privately at another time but getting in the middle of what’s going on (again, unless it’s an emergency of course) is so damaging to everyone. Daddy won’t let me go to Sally’s party is not an emergency…..your answer is “Sorry sweetie, its Daddy’s time with you, go talk to him” One of the biggest things you lose in divorce your influence over the other parents parenting style.
5. DON’T BE A SCHEDULE STEALER: Speaking of Sally’s party – if it was scheduled on Moms time, Dad should not have RSVP’d and vice versa. Dad should also not give the invite to the kids (especially under the age of 10) to go ask Mom. Forward all invites and requests for activities on the other parents time to them first for approval and conversation. Assume absolutely nothing. Nothing.
Good, reasonable parents who want their kids to grow into cool people know that friends birthday parties, sporting events and school activities are really important and will work hard to get them there but YOU telling them to do it will not end well. It’s their time, let them decide and deal with the consequences and rewards of either decision they make. If you have something personal scheduled on the other parents time (vacations, weddings etc..), that cannot be moved and it’s really important to you, go to the other parent with 3 things: A good reason, a plan for how the parenting time will be made up for them and gratitude. Again, a demand, will only cause you trouble.
If you are co-parenting, please consider these things very seriously. When done consistently with respect and authenticity, these will make a BIG, much happier difference for you. There are actually many great life skills that can be taught to kids through the challenges of divorce if parents can get on the same team again and work together. And in case you are wondering, the answer is YES! Yes, you are capable of doing these things even if the other parent is not. “But he is a bully!” – “But she is a narcissist!” is not an excuse. No excuses. Excuses are selfish. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Loving your kids means putting your grown up undies on and doing the right thing, no matter what. It also helps to keep in mind that love, by nature is infinite, bottomless. There is not a defined amount of love your kids can give. Hearts are made to expand. They can continue to love you and their other parent and step parents and step siblings, step grandparents more and more and more. Especially when you show them you love them by working hard to be kind to everyone they love no matter how you feel about them.
I don’t get all those things up there perfect every time but I really do try and I believe my kids are adjusting and doing pretty well given the circumstances. Be reminded of this: YOU ALONE ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR CHOICES. Not your therapist, not your friends, not your kids. YOU. Make good ones. God sees them all and cares about every bit of what’s going on in your home and heart. Chose the kids, chose kindness, chose to try. Everyday, chose better over bitter. It is always the right time to do the next right thing.
Love & Serve – Pray & Try!