By Guest Blogger Juan Santos M.S., CRC, LCMHC
At least once a week, I sit with my son and daughter individually. I ask them, do you feel that I am a good dad to you? I do this because I can only see what my eyes see and feel what my heart feels. I give them space to guide me as I navigate parenthood. Sometimes they come to the conclusion that they want to play more or buy something at Target, lol.
This reading is for all parents that find themselves searching for ways to help their kids grow into a happy adult. I understand how the title of this reading may hold a particular reference to separated parents and navigating the journey of co-parenting. Yet, I hope that all parents find value here.
Before we dive in, let’s make a clear distinction. The practice of using kids as messengers becomes unhealthy mainly due to the relationship between the co-parents. I’ll share what I mean by this in the example below.
Here are two healthy examples of when a child carries a message:
~ “Son, can you please ask mom to come to bring the car keys to me.”
~ “Sarah, I am about to go into a meeting. Would you please ask your dad if he can take you to soccer practice? Let him know that I am about to start my meeting.”
The above is only healthy if the parents are aligned and have mutual respect and trust in the family system. For instance, the second example is healthy if Sarah’s parents have mutual respect, have communicated about the arrangement, and are on the same page.
For clarity, here is an unhealthy example:
Let’s use the same example above of Sarah. The difference here is connected to the relationship between the parents. The background details are that the parents never talked about the schedule. In fact, the one asking rarely even gives the other parent feedback on how soccer practice goes. Yet, the very parent is always the one asking for last-minute favors. In addition, Sarah doesn’t like sending the message because, over time, she has grown to anticipate her dad’s angry reaction. The same response that she later finds herself dealing with.
As a licensed therapist, I typically notice the struggle of co-parenting take place when the following occur:
- A struggle to deal with past wounds. Sometimes co-parents may hold onto or struggle to heal from a past wound connected to the prior relationship. The wound can come out in the form of restricting the other parent from access to the child. Such as not sharing pictures or events in the child’s life.
- Focusing more on personal needs/wants compared to that of the child. For instance, a parent may want to punish the other co-parent, so they engage in behaviors such as not replying to messages, avoiding conversation, and using the child as the messenger.
- Struggling to acknowledge how giving the child the unhealthy role of a messenger can directly hurt their development.
To develop a healthy co-parenting practice that removes your child from being a messenger, you can start with creating a system of communication and values.
Creating a system for communication.
As co-parents, come together and decide on a system that you can use for the purpose of communication and scheduling. This can be as simple as creating a google calendar that can be used in the following ways:
- Adding events such as medical appointments and more.
- Updating each other on school details and how the child is doing.
- Sharing pictures of videos to keep the co-parent in the loop of the child’s life.
Think about this when it comes to having a healthy relationship, such as a strong marriage. One of the key variables that must work is effective communication. Therefore the above practice can help co-parents remove their child from the role of a messenger.
Creating values for your child.
Come together to develop values for your child’s development. Most people have values in their life. For instance, a person may have the value of wellness, and they live by it through the practice of going to the gym. As parents, it’s vital to create values for the kids.
The values that you give to your child provide structure and direction so they can grow into amazing adults.
Here is what you can do as co-parents to help raise an amazing child. Each parent, write down four values that you want to instill in your child. This will create a total of 8 values.
Now talk about the values that you have created. It is entirely okay if you have different values because the most important thing is your child. Now that both have a clear idea of the values talk about making the values action-oriented.
Such as the value of wellness for your child being involved in sports or spending 3 to 5 days at the playground.
Here is something to remember: you are different from your partner, and because of this, each of you will more than likely carry out the value differently. Don’t forget that. This is completely okay. The focus is on aligning with the values versus on forcing the other to do it your way.
Here is a simple way to look at this process.
Together you come up with the value of independence. One parent decides to carry out the value by having the child engage in chores. The other parent decides to carry the value out by having the child learn to practice independent thinking during tasks such as homework.
Sometimes parents struggle with helping each other come together to raise their amazing child because they simply get in their own way. Earlier in the reading, I touched on ways in which co-parents struggle with raising their child. Reread it if needed.
Readers, I can share this with you as the writer. I am not a perfect parent. Not even close. This writing is not aimed to push buttons nor to create hurt in any manner. I write to hold hands with you to come together to raise amazing kids that will grow into healthy and happy adults.
Want to get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to Triad Moms on Main’s free weekly newsletters here.