Throughout my work with clients experiencing divorce or separation – many have asked (half jokingly/half- serious) for a cliff-notes version of what to focus on in the parental role during a divorce. While our intentions may be to keep our children’s best interest at the forefront of our minds during this tumultuous time – we can understandably get off track. Here is a quick refresher for the partner trying to survive divorce/separation while still being a kick ass parent.
A is for Attitude!
Even if your ex-partner is royally (insert explicative here) you over during divorce proceedings or they are the reason your marriage has ended (infidelity, dishonestly, abuse, financial coercion, etc.) the attitude you have about your ex-partner hugely influences your children whether you realize it or not. Keep your attitude in check. The payout is worth it in the long run, not only for your children but for your own sanity as well. Even when you find your kids aligning with you and bashing the other parent – beware; whether your child verbalizes it or not, they are the first ones to feel defensive when you attack the other parent.
Client after client has recounted memories of themselves as children colluding with one parent in the moment only to defend the other the next. Even as adults, these memories are visceral. Why? Your ex-partner may be a monster to you, but they are still your child’s parent. That never changes. One thing that can is your attitude about it.
B is for Balanced Boundaries!
Boundaries are important in so many ways during a divorce/separation. They increase your autonomy, self-esteem and stability. At the same time, make sure those boundaries come with (realistic) balance. Don’t take on more than is feasible but make sure you expect the same from your ex, even if his or her boundaries aren’t so great.
For example, do not scoff at your ex-partner for enrolling your daughter in a soccer practice the next city over, by refusing to take her to practices on your days, and then expect them to pick her up from a friend’s house an hour away on the fly because you are out on a much-needed adult night. Should your ex have consulted with you before enrolling her in the team? Absolutely. But in the reality of divorce/post-divorce world, where homeostasis seems like the unreachable goal- balance check those boundaries. Pick your battles. Fight for the boundaries that bring stability and consistency to your life and the life of your children, while letting some of the other stuff go. Not all boundaries are meant to be rigid. Flexibility is key as you navigate this new you in the parental role in post-divorce land.
C is for Co-Parenting!
No this is not a mythical creature, or a mirage… co-parenting is real and should be a priority to work towards. That being said, for most it is not a reality for months, even years after divorce. Whether you’re working through mediation or in a contentious divorce, co-parenting is crucial in maintaining stability and all around emotional and mental health of your children.
Co-parenting creates consistency and lowers the level of conflict between you and your ex-partner as well as the conflicts that are bound to arise between you and your children as they shuffle between different worlds (homes/rules/expectations). Co-parenting, truly aligning in as many areas as possible of your children’s lives, also benefits parents when they aren’t with their children. The same standards one parent sets in their home are hopefully (okay maybe 75% of the time) being applied while they are with the other parent when co-parenting is truly taking place. That way when your kids return from a weekend at mom or dads, you aren’t re-doing all the progress you made from last week. Co-parenting is the best possible solution when both parents aren’t under the same roof. It also looks different for everyone. Having a co-parenting mentality when trying to work out parenting differences with your ex-partner, will get you farther than pushing your own individual parenting agenda.
Just remember – when all else fails while navigating the tumultuous road of separation and divorce every day is a new opportunity. Breathe effort and energy in to what you can control and not on the things you can’t. Take deep breaths, ask for help, and pour yourself a glass of wine when needed.