Every once in a while I get a few minutes to page through a magazine and today, in November’s O Magazine, I came across a letter in Lisa Kogan’s column called, “May We Help You?” that made me literally laugh out loud at an issue that rarely has a funny side. A woman wrote in claiming that her boyfriend speaks to his ex-wife almost daily to schedule activities for their three children, but what bothered her is that she often hears them “laughing together instead of arranging carpools.” She goes on to say that he has dinner with the ex-wife and the kids every Tuesday.
While I understand that she may feel left out, and one really has to read Ms. Kogan’s response, as she is candid and comical, the part that struck me was how fabulous for these children. Of course Ms. Kogan addresses all the reasons why the girlfriend needs “let it be,” but my favorite line was when she pointed out that those Tuesday night dinners “might be sacred to the kids.” I have said it before, and I will say it again, a divorce or separation does not preclude anyone who has children from being part of a family. A parent will always be family to a child; therefore if a child’s parents can get along…and even laugh together; so much the better.
Not all parents get along well enough to co-parent with laughter; actually some can barely be in the same room, but this does not preclude anyone from the reality that it can only be easier and healthier for children when there is calm and compatibility particularly in their regard. Not every family is meant to have Tuesday night dinners, but there are multitudes of ways co-parenting can work. Sometimes just learning to have a civil conversation can be an improvement. Parent coaches can help. Remember, you are not just doing this for yourself, but most importantly for the children.
I often give examples to dueling parents that regardless of the fact that they may never want to see each other again they still have graduations and weddings to contend with and there is no doubt that they will be more happy and less stressful occasions if everyone learns to get along. Yes, it is possible to learn such behavior. Parents are forever tied together as long as they have children. And what in life isn’t better than a little laughter?
One of the biggest worries many parents considering divorce have is how it will affect the children. Obviously no child wants to see his/her parents separate, but only you know what is best for your relationship. Sometimes one must contemplate whether having children grow up in a home filled with turmoil and fighting is a worthy environment as opposed to living in two homes where a peaceful existence is a more earnest possibility.
It is feasible to co-parent effectively; making the option of having children grow up in two households the better choice in some situations. Parents must remember that it is healthy and works best for children to learn to be flexible and be exposed to different perspectives, but they also need to know they’re living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Maintaining a sense of consistency between your home and your ex’s avoids confusion for children.
Learn to openly and honestly discuss important issues such as medical needs, education and financial issues privately. Try to present a united front and never disparage the other parent to your children. There are various ways to communicate with one’s ex; whether through meetings, email or by learning other methods with the help of a parent coach or coordinator.
Maintaining a common stance in both houses provides children with a sense of stability and steadiness. Living with the same basic set of expectations is helpful.
- Discipline. Try to follow similar systems of consequences for broken rules, even if the infraction didn’t happen under your roof. So, if your kids have lost TV privileges while at your ex’s house, follow through with the restriction. The same can be done for rewarding good behavior.
- Rules. Rules don’t have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids won’t have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments. Important lifestyle rules like homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities should be followed in both households.
- Schedule. Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children’s schedules. Making homework, meals and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child’s adjustment to living in two homes.
It is possible for children of divorce to grow up happily in two homes. Just remember; they still have two parents that love them. By removing the triggers that were part of an unhealthy marriage two healthy homes can be better than its alternative.
Although many parents would like to believe that once the papers are signed they will never have anything to do with their ex-spouse again. The truth is that as long as there are children in common this cannot and will not work. However, there are various ways to communicate. Communication is a key to successful co-parenting. A good working relationship between parents can make all the difference, and most importantly, in the lives of the child(ren).
Whether trying to decide on day to day issues, vacation time or health or education decisions, various methods can work. Some parents may prefer to do everything via email, while another may be comfortable sitting and talking with the other parent. An important rule of thumb though is to never use the child(ren) to deliver messages. Try to compartmentalize your issues about your ex-spouse and remember they are your issues and not the child’s. When you have your child tell the other parent something for you, it puts him or her in the middle of your conflict.
Along these same lines it is important to never say negative things about your ex to your child(ren). This can make them feel badly about themselves as they are still related to the other parent. It can also make them feel like they have to choose. Your child has a right to a relationship with his or her other parent that is free of your influence.
Some options for communicating with ex’s can be:
- email (Our Family Wizard is a useful email system geared toward parent communicaiton
- parent coordinators or coaches (who can help both parents work towards better co-parenting and communication)
Some parents may choose to use one of these methods and others a combination of them. The important thing is that the lines of communication remain open in order to successfully co-parent.
Often parents in the midst of separation or divorce panic when they hear terms like Shared Parent Responsibility and Sole Parent Responsibility. Understanding the differences between these terms and others that may come up may take some of the stress out of proceedings.
Shared Parent Responsibility works very much the way it sounds. Both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child. Parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make decisions in regard to major decisions affecting the welfare of the child. However, the parents may decide that one parent will be responsible for certain aspects pertaining to their child. For instance, one parent may be in charge of religion or healthcare and the other may handle education choices. One parent will likely be the residential parent (as opposed to the non-residential parent); both parents should still work together as equals. Co-parenting can be crucial to the child’s healthy development. In cases where this is difficult a parent coordinator or coach can be of assistance.
Another option is Sole Parental Responsibility which means that accountability for the minor child is given to one parent by the court. This does not necessarily preclude the other parent from having visitation rights with the child; but it may. Generally courts will give Sole Parental Responsibility to a parent only if the court finds that sharing in parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.
There are many options that fall under categories in regard to parenting arrangements, but all should consider both the needs of the child(ren) and each parent’s capacity to parent. For instance, the family may choose:
- Split time whereby the children in the family do not share a primary residence. Perhaps one child lives with the mother and the other lives with the father.
- Alternating weekends is another option. Within this arrangement one parent has the child most of the time and the other parent has the child on alternating weekends, one night each week, summer vacation or any other division of time that works for that family.
- Equal time or rotating time whereby the child(ren) lives equal amounts of time with each parent. This may entail rotating homes every week, every other week, monthly or every 3 ½ days. Parents may even remain in the same residence and have parents move in and out instead. There are many options available here; the important part is finding what works best for each individual family.
There are many things to consider when deciding. Certainly the child’s needs are most important, but financial and geographic limitations need to be taken into account as well. A child should never have to feel like a visitor in either parent’s home.
When I started my company I chose to name it Family Comes First Mediation, because no matter how many divorces or paternity cases I do; family will always be a top priority. When children are involved the concept of family has nothing to do with divorce or separation. A parent is always a parent; therefore forever remain the child’s family. Whether choosing to co-parent with ease or talk as little as possible, they will forever be connected on some level. And this is crucial in the life of a child.
As a mediator I remain a neutral party. I keep the lines of communication open, brainstorm ideas, possibly teach empathy and assist in the decision making process. It is my goal to assist couples looking to end a relationship peacefully, while keeping children’s best interest in mind. Together we can negotiate an acceptable agreement that will reduce stress, keep all parties on amicable terms and significantly reduce the cost associated with the litigation. This is of great value to all involved; including the children.
Mediation has the ability to help parties learn to communicate again, if only for the sake of the children, and to make their post-relationship better and easier on all involved. Settling conflicts is extremely important to couples with children simply because although the relationship between the parents has come to an end; the role as parents never ends. Keeping those roles as amicable as possible can only benefit the children; in the same way that constant fighting can only harm children. No child is comfortable with parents in constant crisis, but rather need to know they have parents they can depend on to make good decisions for them. Mediation, and possibly a skilled parent coordinator, can help to make the transition as easy as possible for all involved.