The Top Five Coparenting Mistakes
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Moving forward after divorce with minimal emotional hardship
After a breakup or divorce, the last thing a Solo Mom wants to do is to have to partner with her ex on anything, yet coparenting is in the best interest of your children. How you decide to coparent is important. It can wreak havoc on the parents and the child when not done in a healthy way. When it’s done well, it can create a template for your child in learning how to handle conflict while reinforcing the most important values—that he or she is loved, important, and supported by both parents equally.
Keep in mind that coparenting isn’t easy, and you might make many mistakes while trying to find the best way to get along with your ex that involves minimal emotional hardship. Listed below are the five most common mistakes divorced couples make when coparenting and some suggestions on how to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly.
1. Lack of adequate communication. Communication is a two-way street, and although communicating with an ex might be the last thing you want to focus on right now, effective communication is important so that both parents are on the same page. Many custodial parents feel most comfortable avoiding communication with noncustodial parents, the old “out of sight, out of mind” tactic. If you are using your child to communicate with the other parent, be warned that doing so creates a fairly awkward situation for the child. Despite the discomfort, you often will have to pick up the phone to discuss how your child is doing in school and what his or her emotional, physical, and financial needs are and how the two of you can work together as a team to meet those needs. The noncustodial parent also should be communicating with the child regularly so the child knows he or she is still part of the child’s daily life.
2. Arguing in front of your child. Emotions will run high after a divorce or breakup. There will be times when you might feel as though you’re on the verge of losing your cool and imploding. But this is no excuse for arguing in front of your child, which could lead to anxiety, fear, and heavy emotional setbacks for your child. If you find yourself in a situation where you really need to get things off your chest, call a friend and vent, reach out to a therapist for some couch time, and/or pull out a journal and write. But whatever you do, remember that arguing in front of your child makes the child feel as if he or she somehow is responsible for your pain. Also, it’s good to remember that no matter how reasonable or righteous your anger may be, you are likely venting some unvoiced residual hurt from your breakup. It’s completely normal, but there is a time and a place for it to be vocalized, and that should be when your child is not present.
3. Speaking ill of the other parent in front of your child. It’s easy to fall into a routine of voicing your frustrations about the other parent in front of your child. No matter what the behavior or action is, it’s imperative to remember that the other parent is a part of your child’s DNA. It is likely that when you criticize the other parent, you will be making your child feel as if he or she also deserves this criticism simply because the child loves the person you are speaking ill about. This creates a discomfort in your child and can often lead to the child feeling like he or she needs to advocate or speak up on the other parent’s behalf. In some cases, the child may feel a responsibility to tell the other parent what has been said about him or her, whether in earnest or even as an act of rebellion toward you. Be careful what you say. It is not fair to attack the character of someone who once meant a lot to you, someone your child cares deeply about.
4. Failing to create a cohesive routine and make decisions together. One of the hardest things about divorce, separation, and breakups is that it can severely change the household dynamic. As a result, the child may feel that his or her sense of safety is now threatened. If you have a son, it is likely he may feel pressure to step up as the man of the house. If you have a daughter, she may feel as though her protector has abandoned her. You will now need to assume these roles and try your best to fill voids that you may not even understand. Simple routines, such as eating dinner together, sleeping arrangements, getting your child to and from school, and extracurricular activities are now all subject to change. Working together to create cohesive routines isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. If your child plays soccer, both parents should be allowed to attend games. Perhaps the school drop-off and pickup can be split between parents. The point is to try to work together to create routines that reinforce the importance of family to your child. It can be weird and uncomfortable to go from seeing both parents every day to barely seeing one parent at all.
5. Using your failed relationship as the foundation for coparenting. It’s the hardest thing to remember that coparenting has absolutely nothing to do with the issues that led to the failure of your relationship. So do not blur the lines for your child by constantly rehashing old wounds and arguments with your ex in front of your child when you should be talking only about going forward and raising your child together.
It’s easier said than done, but the focus of coparenting is really for the sake of your child’s well-being. It isn’t the place to drag out all the unresolved bitterness, anger, and hurt that are wounds from the breakup. In fact, it really isn’t about you or the other parent at all. If you are going to fight, let it be a fight to ensure love and safety for your child. He or she deserves it.
Former Solo Mom VersAnnette Blackman-Bosia, ESME’s Resource Guide for Domestic Violence, is a painter, published poet, speaker, and facilitator. Through her business, Soul Revival Healing Arts, she offers original paintings and products, and teaches workshops. Her first poetry collection, Butterfly Spirit, was published in 2015. VersAnnette is passionate about empowering women, eating great food, and traveling the world. She and her family currently reside near Chicago.
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