Many of the conflicts that come up about a parenting plan arise from your own fears about the situation. And often, they are blown up to be bigger than they really are. When you divorce or end your relationship, your world turns on its head and nothing feels normal. In this kind of environment, it is very easy for issues to become hugely inflated. This time in your life is a time of chaos and unsettled feelings. Everything is changing, yet there are so many things you want to control.
Parenting Continues After Marriage
One common mistake that parents make is to transfer their feelings about the marriage or relationship onto the parenting relationship. You’ve been hurt and you’ve been treated badly by your ex. As a spouse and partner he or she really sucked. But these problems are confined to the marriage. A bad spouse does not always make a bad parent. Your ex should continue to have a relationship with your child, even though you feel your eyes have been opened about what kind of person your ex really is. This person is your child’s parent. They need to have a bond together and spend time together.
Don’t Assume the Worst
At this point in your parenting life, you are on high alert because you know how difficult the divorce or separation is for your child, and you are working overtime to try to minimize the effects. You’re a great parent for feeling this way, but sometimes this translates to becoming too picky about the other parent’s methods, rules, beliefs, or lifestyle. No, he or she is NOT going to parent the way you do and you might not agree with it, but you shouldn’t immediately assume it renders your ex incapable or dangerous. Kids actually benefit from having parents with different approaches. Your ex isn’t going to do it your way and that’s ok.
It’s really unlikely that the person you used to live and parent with will suddenly become someone who endangers your child, even if it might give you a teeny tiny bit of satisfaction to pin that one on him or her (and this is totally normal!). It’s normal at this point to feel as if nothing about your ex is acceptable, but you must find a way to accept his or her parenting.
Letting Go Is the Hardest
The hardest part about parenting after divorce, according to most parents, is sending your child off with the other parent. It feels like a personal loss, that you’re missing out on time and your ex is enjoying what you’re missing. Think about the way you felt when you child headed off to school. It’s a very similar situation and it just takes time to adjust. The time away from you is not the end of the world for you or your child. It’s not going to hurt you or hurt your relationship with your child.
Don’t Let Your Child Play You
Lots of parents talk about how their kids complain about being at the other parent’s house. It’s common for them to talk about how it’s boring, or they’re ignored, or there’s nothing to eat, or the other parent is too busy for them, or they have to do too many chores of they just HATE it there. What parents don’t realize is that their child is probably making similar complaints about them to the other parent as well!
Kids complain and unwittingly try to play their parents against each other. Your kids are likely feeling sorry for themselves (and yes, divorce is tough for kids and this is normal), but your job is to be the adult and refuse to allow them to manipulate you into believing the worst. How many times has your child come from school to tell you about something that enrages you, but then you get more details, talk to a teacher or another parent and suddenly it becomes clear your child’s version was slightly skewed? It’s the same situation with parenting. Don’t immediately buy into what you’re being told, unless it is deeply concerning.
Have Faith in Yourself
You chose your ex to be the parent of your child. You entered into parenting together (whether planned or unplanned, you moved ahead together). Have enough trust in yourself to continue to believe that the other parent is not a monster. It is very rare for someone to change overnight into an unfit parent. If he or she was a decent parent during marriage, he or she probably still is a decent parent because YOU selected him or her. Your child is going to be fine spending time alone with him or her.
Learning to parent after a divorce is really hard. You not only have to trust yourself, but you have to trust someone who hurt you. It takes a lot to make it work, but parenting with your ex will have huge benefits for your child.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner, (How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest, The Complete Divorce Handbook, and The No-Fight Divorce Book: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation. Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.