Co-Parenting: Opportunity or Nightmare

When you were married, one of you was probably more involved in the process of parenting than the other.  Now that you are divorced, neither of you have a backup.  You are in this “parenting” thing on your own.  Even when you remarry, you may find that your new mate Is not all that excited about the parenting thing and leaves that to you. Soooo.  What next.

Let’s view the Nightmare scenario first:

You and your spouse rarely got along on parenting issues anyway and while you were married you were happy to defer to keep the peace on that front.  Now you have your children in your place and even if it is only for a few days at a time or you have the standard 2-2-5 schedule, you still have to have a process for managing the basics:  homework, meals, activities, chores.  This is a nightmare all its own.  Then add the ex-spouse with the elements of resentment, rejection, control, hurt, disgust and more.  Parenting often devolves into shouting matches about history that has little or nothing to do with the children.

In this strained environment, one parent is generally more interested in winning.  Winning can mean controlling the scenario or it can mean alienating the children.  Both are bad choices.  The parent who believes they know better and should have the decision making even down to dictating what the other makes for dinner can make the process of co-parenting a continual contest with no winner.   While you suffer, your children are being damaged in ways neither of you are prepared to face.

Biological children are literally half of each parent.  They have half of their genes from each parent.  Never discount nature!  Adopted children have emotional bonds with each parent that also have deep roots.  To think that in either case you could deny half of your child is more than arrogant.  I would call it tantamount to emotional abuse.  Listen to the following case example and then tell me if it is worth continuing this approach.

Case 1:

A and B were married for 15 years when the marriage finally collapsed.  A had been the stay at home parent and B the income earner yet both felt strongly attached to the 3 children ranging in age from 12 to 8 years of age.  Both wanted to be active parents following the divorce.  However, A was deeply hurt and felt betrayed as B had found another partner.  A felt abandoned and was not about to share the children in any equal way.  A began a campaign of sharing details of hurt with the children, often crying and retreating to the bedroom for long periods of time.  The children felt this pain and wanted to provide comfort.  The only way to do that was to distance from B, so distance they did.  At first it was by making interfering plans on B’s time, then it grew to feigning illness and finally to outright refusal including loud shouting and accusing B of hurting A so severely that they no longer wanted anything to do with B.   B fought this for a couple of years and tolerated the abuse from the children.

Then in consult with a therapist B took another route.  B wrote to each child regularly but never sent the missives.  B respected the requests to end access time even though this was deeply painful.   When the oldest child reached the age of majority and sought out B to learn more about the divorce and the cut off, B had a very large box of letters and a very important story to tell.   That child was the first but not the last to seek out B and gain perspective on the family history.  B and the oldest child now work together in B’s company and enjoy a warm relationship outside of work as well.  The child maintains a connection with A while also understanding how emotional pain can be used to distort and manipulate.

Continuing the fight is not always in the best interest of the child.

Now let’s look at the Opportunity scenario:

Through much pain, A and B have decided that they can no longer stay together.  Sometimes this is just a realization that they want different things and will never come together.  Sometimes this is triggered by one or even both of them finding themselves attracted to another and they can no longer contain the draw to leave the marriage. Whatever the cause, they have come to this place where they will fight over resources, wedding gifts and furniture but recognize the value of the other to their children.  Even through a hard fought divorce, they can see the need for the children to maintain a relationship with the other parent, flaws and all.  They establish a schedule that respects how each of them function and the children begin to move back and forth.  Transitions generally take place after school so contact with the other parent is minimal.  Even if their parenting philosophies are different they can each see value in the process that the other uses and are willing to accept or tolerate the differences.  There may be one or two deal breakers such as religion or education that they have had to slog out legally but each is now willing to live with the outcome.

Case 2:

The children move back and forth between the two households with minimal disruption and begin to adjust to the different lifestyles in each home.   A is a hard driving professional and hires an AuPair to help with childcare and household responsibilities.  B is the stay-at-home, home schooling type and settles into dividing chores and responsibilities among the children, plans camping trips on the weekends and has a school based mentality when approaching all questions.  Even though these worlds are very different, the children adjust and seem to fall easily into the pattern in each home.

Still, major decisions have to be made.  Some of these are simple:  the oldest needs braces. Now we just have to figure out who has the better dental insurance and how we are going to finance the balance.  Some decisions are not so simple:  the middle one has begun skin picking and pulling out hairs one at a time and can’t seem to settle into any comfortable sense of self.  The hard driving professional wants to go full bore with in-patient treatment and the home-schooling type wants to start slower and not over do it for fear of worsening the situation.

Each perspective has merit.  They work with their Parent Coordinator to hear the anxieties that each is carrying and to listen to the range of options available to them.  Through their Parent Coordinating work they develop a plan to consult with the pediatrician first as she has a long history with the child.  They then seek advice from a trusted friend who has had children with emotional problems.  As they collect data, each is able to see a path forward that will give them more information about their child’s needs and condition.  A plan unfolds with stepwise stages and checks on how their child is doing that will either lead them to a new level of treatment or help them to maintain a treatment process.

Their fears have had a voice.  Each has listened and understood.  Validation is a powerful tool. Neither is completely comfortable with the plan but each can see the value in the direction they will be going and they have markers along the way.  There are not perfect solutions and they can support their child in receiving treatment, all the while monitoring and sharing observations with each other that will help the treatment lead to a successful end.

Co-parenting is common in our modern society.  How we do it has a lasting impact on the emotional health of the next generation.  We all need support and through the process of Parent Coordination divorced parents can be supported to bring their best selves to the process of raising their children.