Children and Conflict Series Part 8

Separate Parenting

It is important to understand that parenting partners have separate lives and homes.

  1. Lower your expectations of separate parenting. There is a huge difference between “ideal” and “real” or workable separate parenting.  At the beginning of a separation or divorce, many parents visualize ideal separate parenting.  Most are discouraged when this vision does not materialize.  “Ideal” went out the window when you decided to divorce…real is what remains and learning to parent separately takes time.  Success requires thoughtful planning, clear boundaries, behavioral expectations, accountability and patience.  Most parents experience an adjustment period during which disagreements are fairly common, mistrust is high, and flexibility is limited and inconsistent.  This adjustment period is a normal part of the transition and it takes time to move beyond it.  Remember that “good-enough” parenting is exactly that…good enough.  Focus on your contributions to the parenting relationship and avoid tit-for-tat and score keeping behaviors.  Although it is true that you can only control your own behavior…modeling positive behaviors is the most successful way to influence the behavior of others.
  2. Accept and respect each other’s parenting styles – your children’s development will most likely be enhanced by their different experiences in each home and with each parent.  Whether married or divorced, mothers and fathers parent differently and those differences are an important component of raising well-adjusted children.  As divorced parents, your parenting differences will likely seem more pronounced and problematic.  Remember, if you couldn’t change your spouse while you were married to them and you certainly will not be able to change them after you are apart.  Focus on your own relationship with your children and allow your parenting partner to do the same.
  3. Unless your child’s safety is in jeopardy, support your parenting partner’s decisions or at least do not undermine them. All children experience frustration with their parents and all must learn how to manage the frustration and adapt.  For better or worse, you and your parenting partner choose each other to start a family and providing (if even merely the illusion of) a united parenting front is far more important than trying to change your parenting partner.  As your children age, you will have more and more need to be united in your expectations and discipline.  If your child complains about their other parent, be understanding of his/her feelings and remind him/her that each parent makes their own rules and that your child is expected to follow the rules in each home.  As age appropriate, encourage your child to discuss their feelings with the other parent.  If your child is uncomfortable doing so or needs assistance, offer to help him/her communicate with the other parent without making a judgment, interfering or taking sides.  Remember, “good-enough parenting” is exactly that…your child will survive the ups and downs of childhood so long as you minimize their exposure to parental conflict.
  4. Communicate with each other directly, either verbally, in writing, or by e-mail, not through the children. Even the most innocent appearing requests to ask your children to carry messages, coordinate transfers, or communicate on your behalf place your children in the middle.  Children of all ages forget to deliver messages, leave out important details or relay incorrect information.  More importantly, children need to know that their parents will continue to provide for their needs.  Be the parent and allow your children to remain children.  When a new partner/spouse comes into your life, do not allow him/her to take on a parenting role with your parenting partner.  Allow your parenting partner to define the level and degree of involvement they want with your new partner/spouse.  It is not reasonable to expect your parenting partner to interact with your new partner/spouse based on your wants or needs.
  5. Refrain from discussing your personal lives and marital differences with your children, in their presence, or within their earshot. Your children love each of you and think of themselves as a combination of both parents.  When they hear negative things about a parent, they internalize it as a negative statement about them.  The issues that led to your divorce are not appropriate topics for your children, no matter how old they are.  As they age, your children will develop their own opinions of each of you as parents.  Your behavior during this time will frame much of your child’s impression.  Stand on solid ground by insulating your children from adult issues.  Your children will appreciate your efforts in the long run and will figure it out on their own if either parent is not behaving appropriately.  Deal with parenting problems as parents, between parents only.  When you are unable to resolve parenting problems, seek the services of a family mediator or a neutral expert in family and/or child therapy to assist you in resolving the issues.
  6. Respect each other’s boundaries. Allow a reasonable cushion between you and the other parent at jointly attended functions such as sporting events, concerts, etc.  Children, especially young children, do not always understand the complexities around homes that used to be shared and the need for privacy; therefore, do not to enter the other parent’s home or private space without being invited by the parent.
  7. Expose your children to new partners slowly. They do not understand your excitement and may still be grieving the divorce.  Understand that may be slow in accepting a new person in your life.  Be careful not to imply that your new partner is a replacement for the other parent.  Personally notify the other parent if you enter a significant relationship which may affect the children (such as consistent overnights, living together, engagement/marriage, new sibling, etc.) Communicate the information before your children have an opportunity to do it for you.  Assist your children in understanding and adjusting to the new relationship.  This includes making it okay for your children to enjoy a relationship with the new significant other.


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