Those of you, who are single, separated, or divorced, we see you. We know that your parenting journey is likely complex. Your friends that are raising kids in a home with both parents may be supportive but cannot completely understand what you are going through. You have likely been through or are on an emotional roller coaster over the care of your children. Though it is impossible to cover every circumstance or situation when you are co-parenting with your child’s parent who you are not living with, it is possible to encourage you in a few areas for the benefit of you and your child.
Behind the Scenes Parenting
Communication is key to co-parenting from different homes so that your child is not placed in the role of the liaison between parents. If your child currently is the liaison, I would encourage you to remove him or her from this role as it can be so stressful on the child. If communication with your child’s other parent is less than ideal, I would encourage behind the scenes communication as much as possible so that the child is not experiencing heated conflict between parents. Communication between both parents can help a child feel connected to both parents and felt taken care of as they know both parents have knowledge of his or her needs and what is important to him or her.
When possible, it is great if both parents can be on the communication lists for school, extracurricular activities, appointments, and important events so that both parents are in the loop and the child knows this. Find a communication method that works best for you. Sometimes it seems like each text message, email, phone call or face to face interaction with the other produces a range of negative emotions. When this is occurring, take some time to regroup by yourself so you are not relaying this to your child.
Cut the Criticism
I preach this, and I know it is so hard! Please do not put down your child’s other parent in front of them. Children do not want to hear bad things about either parent even if it is true. That other parent is part of your child. Often times what one parent says about the other gets back to the other parent via the child, and this does nothing to help effective co-parenting.
I write this humbly as I am sure there are layers and layers of hurt and frustration behind those comments that are critical in nature. “Hurt people hurt people,” and I know you do not want to further hurt your child with the comments about his or her other parent. Please take the high road. This is a great area to work on with a counselor so that you do have a place to process all of that hurt and say those comments!
In the event that your child’s other parent is not in the picture because of abuse, neglect, or addiction, having an age appropriate conversation with your about the other parent’s choices/illness may be necessary. I would encourage you to seek the advice of a professional here.
It can be very difficult to have your child being parented in a way that is not your choice. If the way he or she is being parented at the other parent’s home is causing them distress, is abusive, is unsafe, or something is blatantly wrong, of course it is time to speak up. In some cases a mediator or attorney may be needed. Generally speaking communication is needed to discuss values that you would like to see for your child in each home. Realistically, you cannot control the way the other parent parents, and you may do things completely different.
For the everyday things that you cannot control at the other home, like bedtime, dinner choice, screen time, and routine, I encourage you to let it go. Your mental health will be better for it. I know it is difficult, but consider letting one thing go this week. In the same fashion, stop yourself before reprimanding your child for not putting himself to bed a decent time if you know the other parent does not enforce a bedtime. You can encourage good choices, but it is never a good feeling for a child to get in trouble for something the other parent allows, like bedtime or screen time.
Advertise What You Agree On
Savor what you agree on with your child’s other parent. Be thankful for it! As it takes five positive interactions to cancel out one negative interaction, each time you can agree and make a joint decision, you are putting coins in the positive co-parenting bank.
Advertise what you agree on to your child. Knowing both parents are for and behind him/her can strengthen a child’s resiliency and enhance confidence. Here are some examples of advertising what you agree on.
“Your dad and I are so proud of your hard work at school this nine weeks.”
“Your mom and I support your decision to focus on more on baseball and not play basketball this year.”
“Mom and I were talking today about what good choices you have been making.”
“Dad and I are both seeing that you haven’t been yourself lately. We wanted to check in.”
I would encourage you to continue to run this race with perseverance leaning on the necessary supports: faith, family, friends, and hopefully a therapist. You are seen and your journey matters. Please remember that each day is a new day, and your relationship with your child is irreplaceable.
With kindness and humility,