My job is to work with families, primarily divorced families, and help them overcome conflict. That conflict usually comes from the same place -- fear. Every co-parent I've worked with, myself included, has felt fear over at least one of these things.
1. Fear of your children loving their other parent more, or worse, wanting to live with the other parent. Let's be honest here. In the age of custody hearings and long divorce proceedings, we all know that friend of a friend who got sole custody and placement just because their child asked for it. Just hearing these stories creates this sense of fear over what might happen one day if you're not the "better" parent.
What I wish co-parents knew was that as much as you read about judges giving primary placement to the "better" parent, more and more judges are actually awarding joint custody because they realize that having both parents in children's lives is what's best for them. I also wish that co-parents knew that their child will love both parents in different ways, neither one is more than the other. You may provide emotional support whereas your ex provides academic support. Both are needed and both are appreciated, one isn't better than the other.
2. Fear that your ex will hurt your child physically or emotionally. Many times this fear comes from a lack of control over what's happening when you're not with your child. We all have that fear whenever they aren't with us, right? What if something happens? What if I can't get there quick enough? What if I can't prevent it? Now combine that natural parenting fear with the bitterness and resentment that many high-conflict divorced couples feel and suddenly everything your ex is doing is painful to your child. What's worse, there's not much you can do about it because, unless you can prove that it's creating real, lasting pain in your child, judges won't do anything.
Many divorced parents tell me that their ex is hurting their child. One parent tells me that their ex isn't there for their child. The other parent tells me that their ex is too controlling. What I wish co-parents knew is that you may have different styles, but that it's good for children to see a balance between them. Think of everything you learned as a child. You learned some from your Mom and some from your Dad and some from everyone else that was part of raising you. Your children are learning the same.
3. Fear that they're missing out on their child's life. This is the big one, isn't it? You went from seeing your children everyday to seeing them half of the time, maybe less. You talk to your children, but that's not the same as seeing them everyday. It's not the same as dinnertime conversation, movie nights, or midnight snacktime catching up. You can't get that time back, either.
What I wish co-parents knew is that being divorced allows your children the opportunity to build this time with both of their parents. I am not trying to romanticize co-parenting in saying that. I'm a co-parent, too, and hate every second away from my children, but I wish co-parents knew that, yes, you aren't there for every dinnertime, movie night, or midnight snack, but that you are there for them and your child appreciates that. Just making sure they know that you're there for them goes a long way.
Co-parenting is the number one way to ensure your children thrive through divorce. I wish co-parents knew that if they're able to manage their fears and work through them, if they're able to put those fears aside in order to work with their co-parent, that they're on the way to giving their children everything they need to prosper after their parents divorce.
Comment below and tell me which of these ring true for you, or tell me what I've missed.
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