By: Jennifer Webbe Van Luven
West County Psychological Associates
Co-parenting following divorce or end of a relationship is probably the most difficult job you will ever do. You are not married or together anymore, but you still have to interact with your ex-spouse/partner on an almost daily basis. Don’t approach this new role with the idea that it will be easy, that you and your former spouse/partner will always work really well together or that you will agree on every parenting decision. Focus on the fact that the prior relationship is over, so this is your new role as a co-parent. Once you are able (and it is best for everyone – especially the children – that this happen sooner rather than later), you need to work to remove emotions from the co-parenting relationship. For the children, you must remove emotions and start fresh. Let the past relationship go.
If you struggling with this, consider finding a therapist to help you reset.
It is essential to keep in mind that when emotion is involved, logic is not. You cannot have a reasonable discussion or think logically when you are caught up in your own internal emotional battles. How can you possibly agree on any major issues when you are being ruled strictly by your emotions? The anger you may feel toward your ex will not only cloud your judgment but cause you to make decisions based on revenge rather than focusing on the best interests of your children.
In order for children to be where they should be, first place, parents need to release their anger. The anger over the events leading to the break-up, anger toward the legal process, anger over the new relationship that the ex-spouse/partner now has, and other such issues should be acknowledged and addressed. Anger is a natural part of the grieving process, and research shows that who initiated the break-up is not predictive of who will harbor the most anger thereafter. As a parent, you must work through the grieving process to be able to move on with your life. Your children desperately need you to do so.
Playing the martyr role doesn’t work in this new role as a co-parent. If you find yourself playing the “poor me” role, then you are basically declaring that you are not strong enough to move forward. If you repeat the story about how you were wronged in your marriage or prior relationship over and over to anyone who will listen, then you are stuck. If you find yourself yelling obscenities at your ex when he/she comes to pick up the children, then you are stuck. Being stuck may mean that it is time to seek professional help. Whether it was prompted or not, you are allowing your ex that much power over your emotions. You need to gain control of your emotions so that you can heal and be a good parent to and for your children.
Letting go of your anger and negative emotions all starts with your thoughts. Turning thoughts around is something that only you can do. Changing your ex is out of your control, so take control of yourself and start the process of healing. Begin by thinking of him or her as a business partner, as someone you must “get along with.” Take all of the emotion out of your conversations and dealings and only communicate about factual information. Remember that failure is not an option.
Sometimes, co-parents imagine themselves to be unemotional and focused solely on the children’s well-being. However, when there is name-calling, telephone hang-ups or a refusal to respond via email or text, emotions are clearly preventing a healthy, appropriate and effective co-parenting relationship.
From this moment on, you absolutely must let go of any past indiscretions. The past has nothing to do with raising your children now and from now on. The previous romantic relationship is over and the post-relationship co-parenting relationship has begun. And this relationship will last for the rest of your lives.
Treat this relationship as you would a business relationship and your new role is that of a professional. You no longer are able to focus on your own agenda and you no longer can refuse to cooperate with the other parent. It is time to release all of the resentment that you are harboring over the break-up. Hanging on to this negative emotion will only hinder your children’s healing and forward progress.
For your children, you need to make it your priority to do whatever is necessary to be able to have a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex. So remove the emotion and embrace your new role as a co-parent. Your children will notice the change in your interactions with your ex and everyone will be more relaxed as a result. You will be surprised when you find yourself able to discuss situations with your ex without raising your voice. Disagreements are inevitable, but with emotions removed, you will be able to handle them together as business partners and co-parents invested in the future of your children.