The art of sharing the kids after a divorce (part 1)

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couple sitting on different ends of a sofaSharing. Is this not one of the universal principles and values that we try to instill in our children from an early age? “Be nice”, “give and take”, “if there is only one cookie, offer it to your friend first or split it and share”. Why is it then that as adults it can sometimes be so difficult to practice what we preach?

Take, for example, two cars at a shopping mall vying for the same parking spot. Rarely have I seen one driver retreat and graciously wave the other driver into the spot. Instead, each driver maintains a sense of personal entitlement, competitiveness, and possessiveness.

I’m not here to harp on parking lot etiquette of course, but to speak about the art of sharing; in this case, the sharing of our most beloved treasure – our children. We want nothing but the best for them, but for some reason the divorce process seems to override this thinking, and causes logic to be superseded by emotion.

It would seem that once the word separation is articulated by a couple, entitlement, possessiveness, and controversy often begin to paint the landscape. Some of this angst is normal since we never anticipated or hoped for divorce. We assumed that it was never going to happen to us, and if, God forbid, it did happen, we’d certainly not misbehave like other couples, right?

Spoken like a true observer of course, because with reality setting in, our pain, grief, and anger shape our attitude, responses, and judgment. Because of divorce our routines change, relationships are altered, and we must face a lot of very difficult decisions. We may become insecure and scared about losing even more in our lives: financial loss, the division of friends, loss of our home, even loss of identity.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen couples who have mastered civility and are successful in their collaborative parenting from the outset, but this is rare. It usually takes a lot of time and effort to come to a mutually acceptable and effective resolution. Your child(ren)’s best interests should always be of paramount importance, and maintaining this focus is ultimately the cornerstone of your success as co-parents. So how can you get there?

Take the following into consideration:

  1. First and foremost, listen to your child – Your support is crucial as your child moves through their own experience of divorce. Pay attention to their responses, behaviours, and silence. Encourage them to share their feelings with you, and validate what they express, even if it’s hard for you to hear.
  2. The big “no-no” – discussing the other parent – It is of utmost importance to your child’s well-being (and to your relationship with your child) that you say nothing against their other parent unless there is legitimate cause for concern. Kids are often naturally protective of their parents, and divorce often places them in an emotionally difficult position, caught between two people they love. Remember that this is not their divorce, and they should be allowed to love and enjoy time with your ex regardless of your personal opinions of them.
  3. Be civil – In addition to not talking about your ex, it is likewise important that you and your ex maintain civility – even feigned civility – especially in your child(ren)’s presence. Don’t make your kids or anyone else act as an audience to your discussions or disagreements.
  4. Aim for a similar parenting philosophy – Don’t confuse this with a shared philosophy! It is understandable and normal that you and your ex will have differences in approach or opinion when it comes to parenting, just as you likely would have when you were still married, but try to work with the basic values you agreed upon when you entered into parenthood. Look for common ground rather than allowing conflict to bog you down.
  5. Positivity – Focus on your successes as parents. Consider previous experiences and what you can draw upon to help you and your ex navigate new situations.
  6. Boundaries – Establishing personal boundaries is critical. Your separate personal lives should remain private – don’t mix your role as a parent with your role as a former intimate partner.
  7. Consistency and security – Structure and routine are healthy and provide consistency for everyone. Children may now be subject to two different sets of rules depending on whose home they’re in, and they will have a hard time adapting if you, their parents, do not support and facilitate the change. Creating an easy to follow and predictable routine in your own home will provide your child(ren) with a sense of security in an otherwise turbulent time.

Join us in a couple of days to get a look at getting support. To speak to a couple’s counsellor, call 1 866 833-7690 or visit workhealthlife.com for the services and programs we offer.

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