By Guest Blogger Dr. Juan Santos, CRC, LCMHC, of Santos Counseling
Do you want to raise a happy, kind, and successful child?
One of my favorite books is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. One of the habits is to keep the end in mind. This is the precise area that all co-parents must be conscious of during a separation and divorce.
- Do you have an end result you would like to see for your child?
- What type of life do you want your child to have as an adult?
- Is there a level of happiness and contentment you want your child to achieve in life?
- What lessons would you like your child to gain from you?
When co-parents focus on the habit of the end in mind, they realize two vital lessons in life.
First Lesson: The first is the profound consequences that come with harmful parenting.
Second Lesson: The second is the positive impact that comes when co-parents can remove destructive behaviors and show up with integrity and love to parent their children.
To any parent reading this, I encourage you to close your eyes and try this exercise:
Put yourself in the shoes of your child. What words do you hear your parents saying? Are you walking on eggshells? Are you afraid to be honest because of how the parent will react? Do you shy away from talking about your home life? Or, do you feel like everyone is moving on and leaving you behind? Do you hear hurtful words about one parent from another? Do you feel insecure about sharing your grief of the separation or divorce with the parent?
Now open your eyes.
- How do you feel?
- Most importantly, how do you think your child is feeling?
The exercise aims to create a moment of awakening.
Tips for Co-Parents During a Separation And Divorce
1. Create a non-judgmental space for your child.
Most parents want their children to be able to talk about how they feel openly. To do this, you must create a space that honors safety and compassion. Versus one that holds criticism and judgment. If your child feels that they will be shunned, attacked, or rejected if they talk about their life with the other co-parent, then something simple will come from this. Your child, over time, will make the rational decision that they cannot be fully open with you. This can lead to your child struggling to develop healthy relationships with others.
My encouragement is that you try to educate your child on your position. Share with them your excitement to hear about their life. Their life at school, with their friends, and with their co-parents. Be mindful to educate your child on what you will do during the listening portion. Such as, “I will listen and be supportive.”
2. Have constructive conversations with the co-parent.
A common pitfall I notice in co-parents is when they shift away from co-parenting and begin to react to each other or conversate on topics that relate to their past intimate relationship. With that said, the direct encouragement is that co-parents try to set a foundation where the conversation is entirely focused on the development of the child and not their personal or private areas of life.
This is not to say that you cannot have those types of conversations. The aim is to set a solid foundation and be honest with yourself about the reality of the situation.
For instance, during the previous relationship with your partner, you experienced betrayal and felt that you carried the majority of the mental load. Meaning you were the one doing all of the planning, cleaning, etc. And post the separation; you see this new person emerge. You see your partner being a superhero and stepping up in all sorts of ways. This causes you to experience frustration and tension. During a recent conversation about summer camps for the kids, you have a strong reaction and yell at the other co-parent in front of your child.
In such cases, I encourage parents to seek their own space of healing and growth. This can include working with a counselor. The goal can focus on emotional healing and regulation so that you are able to have constructive conversations with the other co-parent.
Teaching Moments During Co-Parenting
Your child observing one parent disrespect the other is a teaching moment. This teaches your child that it is okay to behave in such a way and can often lead to your child engaging in similar behavior. The long-term effect can include your child struggling with academics, work, or even future relationships. Once again, the book mentioned highlights the importance of the habit with the end in mind.
As you walk away from this reading, I encourage you to think about the end in mind for your child and what you can start doing today to achieve the set goals and objectives.