A child psychologist tells all
When asked what the difference is between effective coparenting and noneffective coparenting, child psychologist Cassandra Friedman says it all comes down to one thing: agendas.
“If the parents have agendas that are different than that of the best interest of the child, coparenting becomes difficult and problems arise,” says Friedman, a licensed clinical professional counselor and certified alcohol and drug counselor who has been in practice for 32 years, focusing on adolescent and family therapy. “Many times the parents are holding a lot of resentment, anger, and bitterness toward their former spouse and therefore make decisions they think will hurt that person, even if it means hurting their child, too.”
Friedman, who holds a PhD in human services and counseling, shares five of the biggest mistakes she has seen when it comes to coparenting:
1. Pumping children for information about the other parent. Doing this puts the child in the middle and places unnecessary stress on him or her. Children should not be the ones to try to balance out each parent’s life. They are not meant to be the carrier of information between them.
2. Sharing divorce and other inappropriate details about the other parent with children. Don’t tell a child, “Your mom is taking me back to court,” or, “We are going to be broke.” Kids have enough on their plate. When exes share divorce details with kids, they are giving them information that can be scary, frightening, or inappropriate, given their age. The child can then become the therapist to the other parent. That’s crossing a boundary. Parents need to get their own therapist, not use their child.
3. Making the child the bearer of information or the messenger. “Tell your mom I can’t be there next weekend. I’m going away.” “Tell your father he needs to send me the alimony check.” These are not appropriate things to say to kids. Kids aren’t messengers. Their responsibility is going to school and living life as a child, not to carry some extremely detailed messages between both parents. Parents need to e-mail each other if they can’t be civil enough to talk face-to-face. Also, children by nature are forgetful, and the message might not get to the other parent, which can cause even more problems.
4. Being rigid with the parenting schedule. Flexibility with children is important for a couple of reasons: First, life involves being flexible, as it can change at a given minute, and kids need to learn this at a young age. Second, being flexible is beneficial and in the best interest of the child. Being rigid or inflexible—unwilling to switch schedules—only hurts the children, who in turn will end up with a babysitter instead of the other parent or having to miss events they might want to attend.
5. Fighting in front of the children. This coparenting mistake affects the older child, the preteen, and teen the most. It is dangerous for kids in that age group because their existence at that age is to hide in the corner and not be noticed. Kids of divorce just want to be like everyone else. So, for example, if the parents won’t sit together or they make a scene and fight at their child’s school event, the child just wants to crawl under the bleachers and not be seen.
Friedman also says parents need to ask themselves, What is my agenda? with each of the above. Is engaging in such behavior a way to get back at the ex? Rather, the agenda should be about what behaviors/actions are in the best interests of the children.
Coparenting after divorce is rarely easy. Emotions can get the best of people. So, remind yourself the focus needs to be on what is best for your children. Putting your children first allows for the healthiest transition, and doing so will minimize the impact of divorce.
As Friedman says, “Divorce in itself is not the problem, but rather the way it is handled. If handled correctly, kids of divorce will gain the strength and necessary tools to tackle life’s trials and bumps in the road.”
Jackie Pilossoph, ESME’s Divorce Resource Guide, is the creator of Divorced Girl Smiling, a website that helps men and women facing divorce. She is also a weekly Huffington Post divorce blogger; the writer of a weekly column, “Love Essentially,” for the Chicago Tribune’s Pioneer Press; and a freelance corporate and business content writer. Pilossoph holds a master’s degree in journalism. She lives in Chicago with her two children. Oh, and she’s divorced.