Children and Divorce
The saddest thing about divorce is the fact that the children are hurt so terribly when bitterness, anger and desire to hurt the ex-spouse come into play.
I receive countless emails from women who are devastated because of the pain that has been inflicted on their children. There are so many places and people out there to support them and offer information.
This blog is about people who can help. There are two amazing people who have given a new meaning to putting their kid’s needs before their own when divorce came into play. Their names are Michael Thomas and Deesha Philyaw. They are co-founders of CoParenting101.org.
Deesha was kind enough to answer a few questions that I had for her regarding the successful co-parenting process. Please go to CoParenting101.org to obtain more information on co-parenting.
1. Did you and your ex work well parenting together when you were married?
We did. That was one area where we were on the same page and really partnered well.
2. Do you think that ex spouses who didn’t work together parenting while married can evolve to the point of co-parenting after divorce?
I believe this is possible. In fact, in some cases, the fact that the children will now be with one parent at a time can force–well, maybe “motivate” is a better word–parents to step up their parenting game in ways that they hadn’t in the marriage. If in the marriage one parent got saddled with all the grunt work of parenting, it doesn’t have to be that way when the children are living between two households. Co-parents should strive to avoid the Disney Parent syndrome in which one parent’s is Fun Time Charlie (or Charlotte), leaving the other parent to do all the heavy lifting. Parents must consciously decide to partner in this way, but again, necessity plays a factor. If you’ve never done your children’s laundry or helped with homework, you certainly can’t expect your ex-spouse to come to your house post-divorce and do this for you.
Also, parents may have had decidedly different parenting styles during their marriage and this may well continue once they are divorced. Consistency is good for kids, but so is learning how to adapt to different circumstances and expectations. Ideally, co-parents will strike a balance here, so that children’s experiences between the two households aren’t so wildly different as to be confusing or traumatic for their children.
3. What would you say to or how would you handle an ex who didn’t parent well in the past so that he might understand the importance of co-parenting in the future?
I would encourage that parent to focus on how his parenting–or lack thereof–is impacting his child, and not get caught up in trying to be Fun Time Charlie, or overcompensating because he feels guilty about the hurt that divorce has brought to his child, or “competing” with his ex. If, for example, having no bed-time or a late bed-time is impacting your child’s health and/or school performance, it’s time to institute a reasonable bedtime. If that parent is struggling with how to balance his parenting responsibilities, I would suggest parenting classes, counseling, and/or a support group.
Finally, I would encourage the parent to remember that while the divorce ended the marriage, his child still needs a family and a strong sense of belonging to loving a family. If parents can partner and both actively parent, then their child will feel more secure during this time of change and emotional upheaval. If you feel that you’ve failed your child because of your divorce, commit to doing everything you can to create stability and offer reassurance in the aftermath. Cooperative co-parenting can go a long way in that regard.
4. What could you advise a woman to say to her ex husband to get his interest in co-parenting?
I would suggest she offer words of encouragement instead of blaming, shaming, or berating. “Regardless of what happened between us, I know it’s so important to Billy that we both remain an active part of his life. And it would help him tremendously if we can keep the peace between us and spare him our grown-up conflict. Things didn’t work out between us, but I believe we both love Billy so much that, for his sake, we can put aside our differences and partner to act in his best interest.”
5. How would you suggest approaching an ex or soon to be ex regarding the idea of co-parenting after divorce if the ex still can’t be civil?
In a case like this, one of the most important things for the willing ex to do is to remain civil him/herself, as difficult as that may be. If the other parent simply refuses to be civil, the willing ex should accept that s/he cannot change this person or control his/her behavior. She can then focus on what is in his/her control: his/her responses and actions to the uncivilized behavior. Don’t be a doormat, but choose your battles wisely. Don’t engage in any back-and-forth that doesn’t directly relate to your child’s well-being. And for matters that do relate directly to your child, decide if a conversation is warranted, if it’s something you can let go, or if you might need to take legal action. It’s a fool’s errand to try and cajole someone who doesn’t want to co-operate into cooperating. A parent can, however, take a stand and refuse to tolerate uncivil behavior in front of a child. If need be, the parents can have a third party help with child transfer/transportation and limit their communication to texts and emails.
6. If the ex has remarried, what do you suggest saying to or how would you handle the new spouse to help gain interest in co-parenting the children?
The best role for a new spouse is a supporting role in his/her spouse’s co-parenting efforts. However, if this person has chosen not to co-parent, remember that the new spouse’s allegiance is with his/her partner. As such, s/he isn’t an appropriate “ally” for the former spouse/willing co-parent. Approaching the new spouse in this regard would likely make him/her uncomfortable, if not angry, if the ex has already made it clear that s/he is not interested in co-parenting.
If the ex doesn’t want to co-parent, the most appropriate response is to remain open and civil. Typically, if someone is resistant to co-parenting, cajoling or persuasion isn’t going to get them to budge. They have to be motivated by love for their children and be willing to act in a spirit of cooperation.
This intelligent and capable woman has accomplished what all of us hoped or hope to accomplish with the help of an ex-husband for the welfare of the children. I give my kudos to both of them. Please share this information with anyone who is going through divorce and has children…for the children!
Claudia Broome | Women's Divorce Support