(By Natasha Daniels) Parenting is hard – add divorce and it can be a major challenge! Just remember, you are in control of how you decide to parent your children through divorce …
You have given up half your belongings. You have recovered from the headache of decoding legal jargon and shelling out legal fees. You think you are almost out of the woods, when the reality of co-parenting hits you like a ton of bricks. How are you going to parent after divorce?
Parenting after divorce can be difficult. Every divorcing couple has different degrees of civility and animosity. The more animosity, the harder it is to co-parent. Sometimes it feels impossible to do it. Regardless of your ex-partner, you can control your own behavior and how you handle your parenting.
Here are the five most common mistakes parents make when parenting after divorce:
1. Fighting over clothes, toys and other belongings
Money is often the main source of contention between divorcing couples. Your children may have had plenty of clothes and toys when you were together, but now their possession have been divided between two homes. Parents are often bitter about child support, spousal support and other financial decisions made through the divorce. It is easy to understand why parents tend to get concerned about what is brought to the other parent’s house and what comes back.
In a perfect world – you and your ex would divide the children’s belongings and would supplement them with new purchases of clothes and toys at each house. You might allow clothes to come back and forth freely.
If this is your situation – this discussion isn’t for you! Unfortunately some people have limited funds and a hostile ex that make this issue a struggle.The key is to not let your child feel guilty about what they wear or what they bring back. In everything you do, don’t make your children feel that they are responsible for your adult issues.
You can only control your own household – you may not have the cooperation of the other parent. There are no ideal answers for this dilemma. One way to limit the frustration of losing newly-bought clothes to the other household is to wash your children’s clothes when they come to your home and return the children in the same set of clothes when they go back to the other house. That way, the clothes that you have bought never get lost in the black hole of the other house, never to return to your house again.
2. Having your child decide where they want to stay
Some divorced couples allow their children to decide when they should stay with each parent. One may think that giving a child the power to make their own decisions would be empowering – but often this is not the case. The number one complaint I hear from children in my child therapy practice is, “I hate it when they make me decide who to stay with. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
You may not always let your children decide. Maybe it happens only on holidays or unique situations that fall outside of your usual custody arrangement. Ask your child if making the decision is too stressful. Some children feel guilty about making that decision – others may not.
3. Having no predictable custody arrangement
Living in two different houses is overwhelming enough for your children. Having no predictable custody arrangement can make their life extra chaotic. Ideally your would have a custody arrangement that helps your child get into a new routine.
Some work schedules do not permit the same custody arrangement from one week to the next. If this is the case, have a calendar in your child’s room that highlights when the child will be with each parent. This helps eliminate the unknown and reduce their stress.
4. Talking poorly about the other parent
This may seem like an obvious no-no, but many parents struggle with it. Parents often tell me that their children do not hear any negative talk or fighting, but when I talk with the children they can recite verbatim their parent’s arguments or feelings towards each other.
Children snoop. Yes, even your children. They tell me that they hide around the corner or listen through the walls. They want to know what’s happening – even if they act like they don’t. You need support and you need to vent. Just be careful when and where you do it. Little ears are listening!
5. Making your child be the go-between for you and your ex
This can happen subtly and build up over time. You don’t want to talk to your ex. He rehashes old issues when you talk to him. She is cold and aloof every time you call her. You would prefer to avoid contact at all costs. So, you tell your child to let the other parent know they need to buy them school clothes, or they need to pick them up on the other parent’s day.
Children will feel the pressure of being the messenger. They might be given a nasty message to deliver to the other parent. This causes stress for the child. In such cases technology is your friend. When you want to avoid conflict – text or email the messages. Your email doesn’t have an emotional reaction to telling your ex it’s their turn to pay for school supplies!
Parenting is hard – add divorce and it can be a major challenge! Just remember, you are in control of your behaviour and how you decide to parent through this divorce. You cannot control the other person. Although this can be a scary notion, it is the reality. Avoid some of these common mistakes and you will be off to a good start.