By Dr. Dean Beckloff / Contributor
It’s tough, this thing called co-parenting. When two parents have separated and are now living in two homes, it can be quite the challenge. If two adults have decided that they cannot live together any longer, is it really possible to co-parent effectively without conflicts? It’s a tough question! But there really is no other path to choose if we want our children to turn out healthy, strong and vibrant individuals. So… we must be about this important game, the game that must be won at all costs.
In order to win this game, try to:
1) Keep your eyes on the child or teen and not the problem. When we only focus on the problem, we lose sight of the child’s needs. However, when we focus on the negative—and so very often, it’s what is wrong with our co-parent—we lose sight of the child. Remind yourself that your children need both of you; they need both their Dad and their Mom. Focus on the positive and your child’s needs, and you’ll be sure to win!
2) Be flexible, in the small things and the big ones. Bill Eddy, who has written a number of books on co-parenting, says that this is one of the biggest reasons for trouble in co-parenting. When a child is inflexible, life gets hard in a family and can come to a screeching halt. And if two parents are going to co-parent well, it requires flexibility. Here’s a small example: right after I was divorced, I was with my two daughters in the car. My 10-year-old got to feeling sick, and she doubled over holding her stomach crying that she wanted her Mom. I was new to this thing called co-parenting and wasn’t sure what to do. (It was “my” possession time, not hers…etc.) But fortunately, (this time) I focused on my daughter and what she needed, so I called her Mom, who was available and could take her. I explained to my daughter we were going to her Mom’s house, where she stayed overnight. Both of us determined that was what our daughter needed. Be flexible, and you’ll be sure to win!
3) Contain your emotions. Emotions are contagious. This is another of Bill Eddy’s euphemisms. And he’s right. We need to check our emotions at the door. What happens if you are red hot angry about an issue with your co-parent? Your child feels your wrath and indignation. You may be angry, but your child does not need to feel it. It may feel so good to be angry—and so justified. But when those emotions are unloaded on your children or your co-parent, the children suffer. Their stability and their emotional and psychological well-being suffers. Do not unload your emotions to your children. But do unload them, away from your children. Talk to a friend, who will lend an ear but won’t lend their advice. Go run or exercise. Go for a walk. Find a way to release your emotions, and then, get back to focusing on your child. Manage your emotions and you’ll be sure to win!
4) Forget about fair. There is no such thing as fair in rearing children and especially so in co-parenting. When you focus on fair, you lose sight of the child. When you focus on fair, you may end up in court. Research shows that every entry into court creates an atmosphere of tension in both homes that harms the child psychologically, emotionally, academically and more. Court may be necessary, but only go with much fear and trembling—it’s a crapshoot at best and may do more harm than good. Forget about fair, focus on what the child needs, even though you may not get treated fairly. There is something much more important at work, and that is your child growing up into adulthood whole and intact. Forget about fair and focus on the child, and you’ll be sure to win!
You can be a winner as a co-parent! It does require, like all those who compete, a singular dedication and devotion. But this endeavor to rear children who are emotionally healthy and psychologically sound into adulthood, is so very worthwhile. All the best as you win in your endeavors to rear great adults!
Editor’s Note: Dr. Dean Beckloff is a pediatric behavior specialist and the founder of The Beckloff Pediatric Behavior Center. You can reach him at 972.250.1700 or www.drbeckloff.com.