And every time I think of it, I’m reminded of an extraordinary book my husband and I read, called “Keeping Kids out of the Middle” by Ben Garber, a child psychologist.
I wish it was mandatory reading for parents who are divorcing.
The book’s purpose is to show parents the various ways they’re putting their kids in the middle by not co-parenting effectively, the damage it’s doing to the children, and how they can STOP doing it.
An interesting point is that when Dr. Garber describes co-parenting, he’s not only referring to the mother and father. He’s referring to every adult who “shares a critical interest in the child’s well-being.”
This addresses one of the core problems between moms and stepmoms; many times, mom doesn’t even want to acknowledge that the stepmom exists, much less is taking an active role in co-parenting her child.
But the fact remains, regardless of how the ex-spouse feels about this new person, the best thing for the child is to accept them as a co-parent. And do what you can to work WITH them, instead of against them.
We all know this isn’t easy, but it is what’s best for the child. And don’t we too often see parents saying they want what’s best for their child, but when it comes down to their actions, they’re unable to put their child’s interest ahead of their own?
And whether co-parents get to choose each other (nuclear family), despise each other (bitterly divorced) or don’t even know each other (ex-spouses new partner), if one can open their minds and hearts to the idea of co-parenting, their children will be better for it.
The book describes a parent’s responsibility as weaving a safety net for their children. In order to weave this safety net, parents need communication, compromise and cooperation.
The more there is of these, the tighter the safety net. The less there is of these, the more holes that appear in the safety net, and the more insecure the children will feel.
Funny thing about kids, even though it’s best for the child to have this tightly woven safety net, so he feels completely secure, if given the opportunity, the child will see how many holes he’s able to make in the net.
He will see what he can get away with. He will test limits.
If the parents react firmly and directly, he’ll learn where the limit is and even though he won’t be happy about it, he won’t cross it. He’ll feel reassured and secure.
But if parents act inconsistently and selfishly, the child will attempt to get away with as much as possible, all the while feeling “insecure and uncontained.”
Do you see this with your own children or your stepchildren?
So what does it take to co-parenting effectively?
At the very least, you need a healthy, adult relationship, which is a two way street. It’s defined by reciprocity, give and take. Are you currently experiencing that?
This is extremely important, because the way the child experiences the co-parenting relationship sets him up for all of his future relationships.
Without effective co-parenting, the child cannot learn:
- mutual respect
- shared intimacy
- respectful communication
- shared feelings
All of the above are required to sustain a healthy, adult relationship. If the child doesn’t witness this, he may be in for a future of troubled or failed relationships, continually reproducing the conflict-ridden, emotionally-unhealthy situation he experienced as a child.
What parent can bear the thought of that? Knowing their behavior is partially responsible for the challenges their child will face as an adult? I would guess not many, and yet…
One of the most important essential key elements to effective co-parenting, and probably one of the most challenging, is to always promote the child’s relationship with the other parent. (excluding situations that include abuse or violence)
This means speaking respectfully to and about the other parent.
This is extremely difficult when one parent has unresolved feelings towards the other. Or when one parent feels the other parent is trying to sabotage them and their relationship with the child.
But it’s all about taking the high road here, because if we’re looking at what’s in the child’s best interest, the adult’s feelings should never hinder the child’s relationship with the other parent.
The parent must also make his/her own well-being a priority. When parents take care of their own emotional and physical health, they are teaching the child, by example, to take good care of themselves.
And isn’t that a lesson we all wish we had learned long ago?
What’s your co-parenting experience like? What’s one small step you can take towards improving it?
© 2011 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
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