A successful divorce or separation involves a gradual change from thinking of yourself as a husband or wife to thinking of yourself as a single parent.
You step back emotionally from the marriage relationship and move into a coParent relationship. You and your ex are now coParents, not romantic partners. We all change roles during our lives. The separation, while painful, is just another role change. Stepping back to see it this way can make it a little easier to deal with. Not easy, but a little easier.
At the time of separation, you may find yourself acting in ways you never have before. You may feel sad or out of control. The world seems unfair. You wonder if life will ever be normal again. The good news is, most people move out of this phase and back to more normal ways of dealing with life. Some people, however, get “stuck in chaos.” You may need to learn new skills to deal with this period in your life. It’s important that your children not be caught in the chaos.
The goal of parenting coordination is to help parents move to a cooperative way of solving problems as coParents. This gives the children a sense of their parents having a common purpose. The contest happens because many divorcing parents are competitive.
Parents will often settle for a disaster rather than “losing.” This way of thinking is absolutely toxic in raising children. The competitive style looks like this:
- Dishonesty and outright lying. False promises and misinformation may make it look as though cooperation is happening, but it is not. Parents can’t trust what the other says.
- Suspicion of the other parent. This flows from the untrustworthy way that the other parent acted in the past. But now anything the other parent does is looked at with suspicion.
- Parents split up parenting tasks because they can’t work together. As a result, balls get dropped (no one shows up at Pamela’s choir concert because each thought the other was coming, and they did not want to both be there).
- Parents criticize and reject each other’s ideas, even if the ideas are good ones.
Cooperative parenting — the goal of parenting coordination — looks very different. Parents share ideas, listen to each other, and consider each other’s suggestions. Conversations are friendly and helpful. Parents are willing to share power and control. Solutions to problems take into account everyone’s needs — children, parents, and extended family.
It takes time. It is not all conflict or all cooperation. Rather, you and your coParent will be moving from conflict to cooperation, step by step. It gets easier as you learn to focus on the tasks of parenting, not the feelings of divorce.
As life moves on for you, your ex, and your children, you will continue to need to adapt to life’s changes. Using cooperative parenting skills can help make this easier for everyone. Not easy, of course, as I have said before… just easier.
From COPARENTING AFTER DIVORCE: A GPS FOR HEALTHY KIDS by Debra K. Carter, PhD.
Photo by Carmela Nava