A break up can be painful, stressful, and anxiety-provoking. Combine the pain of a break up with the task of co-parenting, and the feelings can be amplified. For couples who had a difficult time with communication and collaboration in their romantic relationships, the experience of parenting children together can be extremely complicated. Here are some tips:
Do not put children in the middle
As painful as it may be, encouraging your children to maintain relationships with your ex and your ex’s family can help bolster their confidence and increase feelings of safety. Avoid speaking negatively about your ex, for that can make the children feel anxious and insecure. Do not burden your children with stress that you are experiencing as a result of the separation. Most likely, the experience is difficult for them and hearing about how upset you are will increase feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
While you might be angry at your ex, discourage any negative talk about them (as much as it might please you to hear it). Set up a system for communicating with your ex. Do not give children the additional responsibility of being your messenger. If speaking to the other parent in person, by phone, text, or email is too challenging, take advantage of websites that allow you to upload schedules and share information without direct contact. Do not make your child the primary source of information between you.
What your ex does during his/her time with kids is out of your control. Focus on how you can make your time with your children positive and productive.
If possible, work with your ex to create consistent rules that exist in both households Children thrive when consistency and boundaries exist. Children may attempt to pit you and your ex against each other in an attempt to get things they want. Open communication with an ex can help to combat this. Research shows that children who come from homes where separated parents are unified are more confident and well-adjusted.
Separation and divorce is challenging on a number of levels. Modeling strategies to work through the pain and the stress will send children a strong message on how to cope. Consider speaking to a professional about your painful feelings, to learn how to avoid leaning on your children for support, and to learn coping strategies.
Don’t let guilt consume you
The break-up of a family can cause a parent to feel guilty. Guilt can lead to overindulging your children. This can actually be harmful. Consider seeking professional help to deal with your feelings of guilt while providing your children with the boundaries and consistency they need.
You and your ex are the parents
When it comes to making decisions about your children, you and your ex’s opinions are the ones that matter most. While seeking counsel can be helpful at times, remember that you two are the parents and should work hard to collaborate on decisions. Do not use children as a weapon against your ex or as a negotiation ploy. When making decisions, remember to put the welfare of your children first. Think of what is best for them.
Graziella Simonetti is a parent educator for EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute and works as an early childhood social worker for the New York City Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP credentialed parenting educator. Simonetti is a former kindergarten teacher.