Excerpted from the CE Course The Challenge of Co-Parenting, Lisa M. Schab, MSW, LCSW, © Professional Development Resources, 2006.
Parents who have chosen not to remain together as a couple are still responsible for the healthy upbringing of their mutual children. They must face not only the typical challenges of parenting, but also those unique tasks that come from living in separate homes, and often in conflictual or uncomfortable circumstances. Co-parents who want to do the best for their children must often learn to work with a partner that they have a significant dislike for, have been deeply hurt by, or have no interest in ever seeing again.
The ideal co-parenting situation is one in which both parents put aside their personal differences to work together in the best interests of their children. They are calm and mature when discussing their children’s needs; they compromise, respect each other, and work out their own problems on their own time. Negative feelings for each other are kept separate from their work as parents.
The healthy co-parenting mindset
The following statements represent ideas that would be embraced by an emotionally healthy parent who is ready to work objectively with their co-parent in the best interests of their children. The combination of these statements represents an ideal, and suggests a goal toward which to strive. This goal may not be achieved easily or quickly, and may never be realized to the full extent. It should be understood that working toward the goal to the best of one’s ability requires work and energy, and that any progress is to be commended.
“My co-parent is the person I am raising our children with. This comes from my decision to bear children with them.”
“I will be accountable to our children and society by working with my co-parent responsibly.”
“It is in the best interest of our children that I have a healthy relationship with my co-parent.”
“My co-parent is human, just like me. Although it may not appear that way at times, it is likely that my co-parent is doing their best – in their capacity – to love our children.”
“The past is past; I leave it there. I am focused on the present job of raising our children. If my mind wanders to the past, I will bring it back to the best interests of our children.”
“I can and must let go of small irritations with my co-parent to save my energy for healthy communication.”
“It is normal for this to feel difficult. I will care for myself and my emotions by dealing with them outside of the relationship with my co-parent.”
“By working maturely with my co-parent, I am modeling maturity and integrity for our children.”
“No matter what happens, I will strive to make all decisions based on the best interests of our children.”
Achieving the healthy co-parenting mindset requires that co-parents set aside any negative feelings about their own relationship to be able to focus on the best interests of their children. For many split couples, this is a formidable task.
Parents may benefit from reminding themselves of the fact that despite the co-parents’ own relationship not working out long term, something very wonderful has resulted from their being together – the existence of their children. When parents can focus on this good, it can help them to get past harsh feelings. They can agree to get along well enough to give their children a good life.
For co-parents who have spiritual beliefs, ranging from belonging to an organized religion to simply having a belief in a higher power or order to the universe, they can use this perspective to help them as well. Seeing their children as miracles of creation, or believing that there is a reason that their life paths have taken the course that they have can help them to see beyond their ego perspective, feel beyond their personal wounds, and see purpose in their roles as parents.
A more existential perspective can also help them to see their co-parents not just as someone they have problems with, but as a human being, struggling along with their strengths and weaknesses just like themselves and everyone else. This can help them to move past hatred or vindictiveness and toward compassion.
The child’s loss of security
Picture what happens to the child when the parental relationship splits through divorce or separation: the child begins to fall through the gap between them and becomes frightened. The child’s source of security is shaken or lost completely and he or she becomes frightened.
When co-parents understand the impact of their split on their children’s security, they can better understand the need of working to rectify this loss. They can better understand and begin to act on the fact that the greatest antidote to effects of the split is to work together peaceably, putting the best interests of their children first. When their children see them putting this idea into action, they will be able to rebuild a sense of security. They can realize that even though their parents are no longer together as a couple, they are still completely committed to caring for and loving their children. They will be able to regain their sense of trust in relationships and in the world.
Feelings of guilt
It is common for children whose parents have split up to harbor feelings of guilt. They may wonder if it was something that they did that caused the relationship to fail. They may think that if they had only been better behaved, gotten better grades, not been ill, or helped more around the house, their parents might have gotten along better and stayed together.
It is important for co-parents to be perfectly clear with their children that there is absolutely no connection between the parental relationship and the children’s actions. They must directly communicate that this is so in a clear, definite conversation appropriate for the age and maturity level of the child. After this, they must then prove the idea through their actions – keeping their own relationship issues separate from their relationship with their children.
Steps for forming a working business relationship
Often co-parents have a better chance of putting emotions aside and working together constructively if they can frame their relationship as a business partnership. Their business is to raise healthy, happy children. They need to remember that this is the most important job in the world, and, if they care about doing a good job it is probably the hardest as well. The better they can learn to work together as partners, the better chance they have of succeeding.
The following guidelines can help them see their relationship from a “business” perspective.
• Start fresh. Feelings toward the ex-spouse stem from what has happened in the past. Agree to keep all of the personal feelings about this out of the new business relationship. Look ahead, not behind.
• Agree on the goal. Assuming that both parents love their children, the ultimate goal should be to give them the best and healthiest life possible.
• Agree on attitude. Let go of the win-lose mentality. Do not let raising the children become a point of competition between co-parents. Neither parent wins this way, but the children definitely lose.
• Manage emotions. When a co-parent enters a business meeting with their “job partner,” they should make a conscious decision to leave their emotional baggage at the door
• Work in “business meetings to discuss any issues regarding the raising of the children. Go to the meeting with an agenda that is relevant to the care of the children. Make a list if it helps.
• Agree on rules of conduct. These might include sticking to the point, not bringing up personal issues, not resorting to name-calling or blaming.
If you would like to read this entire paper and receive two hours of continuing education credit, visit Professional Development Resources at https://pdresources.org/course/index/6/862/The-Challenge-of-Co-Parenting-Helping-Split-Couples-to-Raise-Healthy-Kids
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