Keeping Your Children at the Center but Out of the Middle – Raising Healthy Children in Two Homes
By: Maureen Goldblatt, LPC, CSAC, Child Specialist & Therapist
As parents navigating a separation or divorce, you want to do what is best for your children. However, it is not easy to work together or know what to do or say. Divorce can bring upset and uncertainty at a time when your children need to depend on your stability.
If you want to lessen the risks to your children and keep them at the forefront of your thoughts and actions during your divorce, then I challenge you to make these 5 promises to your children:
1. I promise to stop the fighting
Parental conflict is the major contributor to harmful effects of divorce on children. Never have a disagreement when your children are present; instead go for a walk or schedule a time to discuss. Your children are listening – I promise. They are what I call “super-spies”. They want to know what is going on but do not have the emotional capacity to handle the tension or content. This applies to text messages as well. Children will search or accidentally see your messages. Be mindful of your phone and where you leave it. Better yet, use email or a phone call to avoid inadvertently putting your children in the middle of your argument.
Be aware of your expressions and body tension too – remember 90% of what we communicate is in body language, not words. Keep sarcasm, digs, and eye-rolling out of the relationship. You are modeling for your children how to have healthy family relationships.
2. I promise to treat my co-parent with respect
Speak kindly about each other and eliminate the negativity towards each other. Your children won’t love you more if they are mad at the other parent, instead, they just have more negative emotions to handle.
How we address a person is also a form of respect. Did you switch from calling your co-parent “mom” to now “your mom” or “dad” to “your dad”? Yes, it is semantics, but it is more than that, it is decreasing your respect for the family as well as dividing up the family structure into an “us vs them”.
Children need to see you model positive, respectful behaviors. For example, greet each other at transitions, in the stands at the game or other events. Do not be the parents who cannot even sit near one another at child events. Ask the same of your extended family. Keep the children out of conflict and out of the middle.
3. I promise to encourage my children to have a strong relationship with both parents and all extended family members
It takes a village to raise healthy children and having a quality relationship with both parents and extended family is part of that equation. Your job as a parent is to nurture each of these relationships. This can be done by protecting your children from feeling guilty for enjoying time with each parent. Human nature wants to focus on the negative but I challenge each of you to look at your co-parents' strengths as a parent and as an individual. Push yourselves. Share in your children’s excitement at both homes. Both parents have an important role, and it adds up to more than divvying up time. Your children are not a math equation nor an object that can be divided. Stop fighting over 50/50, instead focus on quality vs quantity. Children cherish moments and memories, not a specific % of time.
Meanwhile, strengthen your skills as a parent. Work on being engaged when your children are with you, stay in the moment vs in the past or future. Balance your work and family time.
4. I promise to continue to learn and grow as a parent and co-parent
Co-parenting is about making child-centered decisions together. Do you have similar expectations, routines, bedtimes, use of electronics or phone time, effort in school, and behavioral expectations? The younger your children, the more similar your parenting needs to be however all children benefit greatly from routines and expectations no matter what their age. Parenting is all about consistency and follow-through. Don’t change the rules just to look better as a parent. You are not doing your children any long-term favors.
5. I promise to plan for the future now and not kick the can down the road
Over these past 20 years, I have seen first-hand the consequences to children when parents fail to discuss the future and create a joint family plan at the time of their divorce. Parents often want to avoid details and say we can make that decision later. However, kicking the can down the road does not avert conflict, instead, it usually creates more conflict. Decisions only get more complicated as children get older, not simpler.
Working with a Child Specialist can help you develop a child-focused plan based on your children’s development and your family dynamics and avoid potential future conflicts.
Families looking for more specific support and input individually tailored to your family and your children's needs should consult with a Child Specialist.
Contact Family Mediation Center
Contact us today to schedule a free initial phone call with one of our experienced lawyers who can help you weigh options for next steps. For more information to help you make a decision that is right for you and your family call (414) 273-2422.