By Nisha Salim
This story was first published on WomensWeb
Children are the innocent victims of the inability of adults to make their relationship work. When a marriage ends in divorce, the ex-spouses’ responsibilities towards each other may end, but parenting duties continue and child custody is sometimes shared. Supporting your child when going through a divorce has been explored before. In this article we take a closer look at co-parenting, the emotional challenges that are involved and the role of the extended family in successful co-parenting.
“If you choose to engage in an adversarial procedure, consumed with hostility towards your spouse, I guarantee that hostility will be returned in spades. If, instead, you commit to steering through the process as cleanly as possible, the rewards will be manifold.”
~ (How to avoid the divorce from hell: and dance together at your daughter’s wedding. By M. Sue Talia)
Shraddha K*, 34, a Business Analyst working overseas, walked out of her marriage when she could not take the physical and emotional abuse any longer. “I did not want my daughter to grow up seeing her mother being beaten up every day,” she says.
In such divorces, it is not easy to consider an amicable middle path to co-parenting. Listening to Shraddha talk about how her daughter will be educated by her money alone, I wondered if it is not the father’s right to contribute to the child’s welfare. “He gave up custody altogether when I asked him to put some money in our daughter’s name every month,” replied Shraddha.
It is difficult, to say the least, to consider facilitating a continuing relationship between such a parent and your child.
But Amar Rajan, a psychologist from Kerala who conducts career guidance and personality development programs through his company Mind Carter, says that the feeling of security and love from both parents is the most important factor in the development of a child. “Kids from broken households do not feel the security and stability which is very essential for their healthy development.”
Co-parenting implies co-operation. No matter how nasty your relationship was, it is an undeniable fact that your ex-spouse is the other parent. Co-parenting is difficult, but not impossible. Some basic guidelines for successful co-parenting include:
1) Do not reject the other parent or expect the child to be your emotional ally
Dr. Richard Warshak, in his book, The Divorce Poison, says that children feel personally rejected when you reject the parent, because they see themselves as half dad and half mom.
Separate your feelings of hurt, resentment and unhappiness, from the kids. Take responsibility for the divorce and the ensuing feelings; don’t put the children in a position where they have to emotionally take care of their parent. No matter how wise or resilient your child may seem, remember that they are still children, and they are best being that.
2) Keep the lines of communication open
Even if your ex-spouse is not interested, it is necessary to keep the communication channels open. If you fear that the conversation may escalate into a fight, you can always email or text each other. Get the help of your extended family if they are level-headed, or even a mediator if you must. It is impossible to co-parent if you don’t communicate; make an effort to communicate regardless of your personal feelings.
Only in extreme cases such as danger of physical or sexual abuse to the child is it wise to completely eliminate contact. Seek a psychologist’s opinion before adopting drastic measures.
3) Consistent parenting
Co-parenting is also consistent parenting. Though most children in India stay with their mothers after the divorce, they may also visit their fathers during the summer holidays or weekends. A child who is allowed to stay awake till 12 in the night in one household and forced to go to bed at 9 in the other will feel confused and find it difficult to adjust. Children need stability more than anything else.
Parents’ divorce is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a child, so minimize the differences to make it easier for the child to transition. It is essential to enlist the support of grandparents as well.
4) Availability and accessibility of both parents
Amar Rajan talks about an instance where the divorced parents adopted a very co-operative approach toward parenting.
The father visits the daughter every week, attends PTA meetings and is generally available for her at all times. The mother does not restrict the daughter’s visits to her father’s house. Both spouses live in the same city because it seems to be the best arrangement.
“Here, the ill effects of divorce can be eliminated to a considerable extent, but this sort of an arrangement may not be possible for all,” says Amar. “Technology is your best ally if you cannot live in the same city as your child. Communicate regularly via phone calls, video chat, emails and even old fashioned letters.”
Make sure that you are available for your child when she needs you, whether it is to talk to you about her personal problems or to seek your inputs on a school project.
5) Do not assume things and accept differences in parenting style
Psychologists caution against assuming that your spouse will be a bad parent just because he was a lousy spouse or did not participate in parenting duties as you expected them to. Believe it or not, your ex-spouse can be a lousy spouse, but a great parent. If you keep a child from her parent because of the negative qualities that you perceive, the child may resent you later for all the years that she lost with
her other parent.
It is only natural for your ex-spouse to have a different parenting style, but take it in your stride. Co-parenting success depends on the ability of each parent to resist the temptation of criticizing the other’s parenting style.
After a nasty divorce, resolution of conflicts may be extremely difficult, but not impossible. Rising above your personal differences, and occasionally eating humble pie, is worth the immense psychological benefit for your child in a successful co-parenting scenario.
*Names changed on request
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