It may seem counter-intuitive but children with high-conflict parents actually benefit when their parents disengage from each other and stop trying to cooperate.
In an ideal world, separate parents would put their differences aside and focus the needs of the children. In the real world, high conflict parents (who would prefer the other parent fall off the face of the planet) are simply not capable of cooperation even for the benefit of their children. The more these parents try to cooperate the more reasons they have to battle.
High-conflict parents often talk about their children’s best interests; however, their own interests in retribution and retaliation cloud their ability to objectively understand their children’s best interests. In high conflict cases, the children’s best interests are served, first and foremost, by reducing conflict and the most effective way to quickly accomplish this goal is to stop trying so hard and to disengage.
Children of high conflict parents pay the price of the ongoing war with their emotional and physical health – stomach aches, headaches, depression, sleeplessness, behavior problems, and inability to concentrate. More than cooperative parents, these children need peace. To get it, they need parents who limit their interactions to an as needed basis and when interaction is required, who abide by clear boundaries and rules. This is easier said than done because success typically requires that each parent be allowed to parent according to his/her own style and preferences without interference from the other parent.
High conflict parents do not like this concept. They argue that it is confusing to the children to have different parenting styles and rules – but the truth is the children will adapt and even benefit from their exposure to different ways of life. Similar to how children learn from a variety of teachers with different styles and classroom rules – some are lenient while others more strict, some are better teachers than others, some more influential over time – all will teach valuable lessons and skills.
A detailed parenting plan is absolutely necessary to achieve parental disengagement. The plan must address as many potential parenting issues as possible outlining an acceptable protocol for each in order to provide a safety net for resolving future disagreements. Plans must be thoughtfully constructed and customized for the unique needs of the family and often require assistance from a third party, preferably a separate parenting specialist. After the plan is developed, short term or on-going assistance may be needed in the form of a separate parenting coach or Parenting Consultant to ensure success.
It is a well-researched fact that parental conflict is detrimental for children; therefore, lowering conflict should be the primary and arguably the only goal of high-conflict parents. Forget cooperation; focus instead on leaving each other alone because doing so will free the children from the burden of their parent’s conflict and allow them to focus on being a kid and growing up as healthy, well-adjusted adults.
This blog entry inspired by Forget Harmony, Settle for Peace by Gary Direnfeld. To read the full article, visit: //www.yoursocialworker.com/s-articles/Forget-Harmony.htm.
Written by: Amber M. Serwat, MA
Amber is a divorce and parenting specialist in private practice in Burnsville, MN – she is also a divorced parent and step-parent of three teenage children, ages 17-14.
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