When Mom and Dad divorce, the children frequently lose their parents in important ways. In the course of the divorce, the parents have frequently destroyed any good will that may have existed between them and they are now faced with moving into a world complicated by two households, confusing schedules, difficult communication and varying agendas. The idea of saying “No” to the marriage and “Yes” to cooperative parenting is foreign to most people.
The focus of the divorce was to create distance from this adult that you no longer love or respect or desire. The focus of parenting is to give your children an atmosphere for developing their character and preparing for life as a connected, confident being. While divorce creates distance, parenting creates an integrated system as you engage in the business of raising children. These are wildly different tasks. The divorced couple often confuses one with the other and acts to create distance between the children and the spouse they no longer desire. As this action continues, the children are harmed by failing to develop attachment bonds to each parent and to benefit from exploring the parts of themselves that have been influenced by each parent.
Co-Parenting acknowledges that each parent is still vitally interested in the well-being of the children and that the children can benefit from continuing to develop relationship with each parent. The two contra-indications for co-parenting are active addiction and domestic violence. While mental health issues or character flaws of a parent may place some limits on their ability, the children can continue to benefit from the parts of parenting that can still be provided by this person
The key to co-parenting is to develop a plan that focuses on the present and the future with a clear sense of the needs of each child. Assessing the individual needs of each child may require some research with teachers, pediatricians, coaches, or other knowledgeable and significant people. This assessment will be repeated at various developmental stages. With this information in hand, the parents can examine ways to meet the needs of each child and they can assess their own capabilities in these areas. As in the intact family, each parent does not have to do everything.
Co-parenting may be facilitated by contracting with a Parent Coordinator who is trained in helping parents develop plans, resolve disputes and learn new parenting skills. Periodic meetings with the Parent Coordinator will help both parties to remain focused on the children and to support the value that the other parent brings to relationship with each child.
Co-parenting is often a more thoughtful process than parenting as an intact couple. One of the tasks of co-parenting is to consciously develop a mission statement for parenting. This process of careful thinking about values, interests, hopes, and wishes may be new to each parent and can facilitate a clear focus on the important task of guiding your children. A written statement of values can easily lead to self-examination as you think about what you need to do to facilitate the development of these values in your child. If you value honesty then some thoughtful examination of how this is communicated to your children is in order. Many are probably familiar with the television ad where the police officer pulls over the speeding car and asks the father in the driver’s seat if he knows how fast he was going. As the father says “well no officer, I don’t know”, the pre-teen son in the back seat leans forward with “87 Dad, you said you were going 87”.
A conjoint mission statement can hold both parents accountable to address changes that they need to make in order to provide a better model for their children.
The conscious development of a mission statement can lead each person to examine strengths in the other. All of us have certain talents of interaction and the co-parenting process requires us to make those clear to each other as we assess our strengths and weaknesses. Remember that each of your children has developed an attachment to the other parent and has acquired some of that parent’s demeanor, or way of being that they like to imitate. Working together on keeping the healthy or endearing ones and reshaping less admirable ones can be a powerful process for everyone.
The basic elements of a parenting mission statement require answers to the following questions:
1. What is the purpose of our family?
2. What are we all about in life?
3. What kind of family do we want?
4. What is our identity as a family?
Questions to ask your children are as follows:
5. What kind of home do you want to invite friends to?
6. What is embarrassing to you?
7. What makes you feel comfortable at home?
8. What makes you want to come home?
9. What qualities are important to you so you are open to our influence? How can we improve?
Questions that may be different within each family are as follows:
10. What are the things that are truly important to us as a family?
11. What are our family’s highest-priority goals?
12. What are our unique talents, gifts, and abilities?
13. What qualities do we want our family to operate on?
(trust, honesty, kindness, forgiveness, respect)
14. What are our responsibilities around caring for one another?
15. How do we want to make a difference to our community?
Imagine the benefit to your children if you were to approach parenting in this thoughtful way.
Co-parenting can be done and done well when preparing your children for the future takes precedence over distancing yourself from your past marriage partner.