While co-parenting is highly advised by experts as an optimal situation for a child’s well-being after divorce, a child can experience stress transitioning from parent to parent – especially if they witness conflict between their parents. It’s important for your child to see you getting along with your ex without letting your emotions get in the way. Recently, I read an excellent article on Huffington Post Divorce by Jackie Pilossoph entitled Divorce Advice: Don’t Be Hurt When Your Kids Choose Dad which caused me to reflect on my own experience co-parenting for over a decade.
In the last several years, I’ve been committed to educating people about the benefits of co-parenting because I’ve seen how it can benefit a child, including my own, into adulthood. Hopefully, your child will be able to maintain a close bond with both you and your ex and they’ll look back on their childhood with fond memories of time spent with both of you. My research shows that adults raised in divorced families report higher self-esteem and fewer trust issues if they have access to both parents and experience low conflict in their interactions among family members.
Keep in mind, your role as a parent is to help your child adjust to divorce and setting boundaries and limits is an important aspect of parenting. It’s important to consider that your child doesn’t have the wisdom, insight, and clarity to make decisions about spending time with both of their parents on their own and can benefit from your guidance.
Let’s start with some basic assumptions. If you have determined that your child feels safe and secure at their other parent’s house, it’s a good idea to sit down with your ex and come up with a few strategies to encourage your child to cooperate with their “parenting time” schedule. For instance, you may decide to make different arrangements for drop off and pick up. Most importantly, it’s key that your child see that you and your former spouse are working together for their well-being.
Next, you may need to examine the “parenting time” schedule to make sure that it’s working for your child. For example, the younger child will adjust better if they are not transitioning between houses too frequently and adolescents usually want more control over their schedule due to school, work, and time with friends. They may develop resentment toward you if they can’t make some decisions about their schedule.
Moving from one house to another can be stressful for children after their parents’ divorce. At times, a child may balk at the prospect of leaving one home and spending time with their other parent. One of the best things that you can do for your child after divorce is to set routines and boundaries for daily life. It’s crucial that you and your ex work out a schedule that lessens the likelihood that your child will experience divided loyalties because they feel like they have to choose sides. Being consistent with your time with your child will help them feel secure. As much as possible, adhere to a schedule wherein your child will be able to predict when they will be spending time with both of their parents.
Many children of divorce I’ve interviewed described the pressure of loyalty conflicts. Meghan, a lively thirteen year old speaks candidly about her struggle to cope with divided loyalties since age nine. She recalls: “It was really hard to interact with both of my parents after their divorce. When they were saying nasty things about each other, I just never wanted to take sides.”
Loyalty conflicts can make a child feel as if he or she doesn’t want to spend time with both parents. Meghan continues, “I felt like I had to keep my dad’s new girlfriend a secret because my dad bought her lots of stuff, even though he wasn’t paying regular child support. When my mom asked me if my dad had a girlfriend I lied but she eventually found out when she saw them together.” Meghan’s story reminds us that a child should never be used as a messenger between their parents post-divorce. Let them enjoy their childhood and think about how you want them to remember you when they grow up.
The following are guidelines based on my own experience, research, and advice from experts. First of all, it’s paramount that you gear your parenting plan to the age of your child and that you are consistent with it. Try your best to develop routines for him/her leaving and coming home when they are young. When they get older, you may not need these routines to be set in stone. Opening up lines of communication with your child about their parenting plan is beneficial because they’ll know what is expected of them and it can ensure smooth transitions.
Here are 5 ways to encourage your child to spend time with both parents:
- Reassure your child that they have two parents who love them. You can say something like: “Even though mom and dad aren’t married anymore we both still love you and we are good parents.”
- Remind them a few days ahead when they will be spending time with their other parent. This will help them anticipate the change and gives them an opportunity to adapt. Planning ahead and helping your child pack important possessions can be beneficial to them.
- Do your best to encourage your younger child to adhere to their parenting time schedule –allowing your adolescent to have more control over their schedule.
- Attempt to show enthusiasm about their visit with their other parent. It’s important to put your differences with your ex aside and to promote your child’s positive bond with them.
- Recognize that your ex is your child’s parent and deserves respect for that reason alone. If they hear you make negative comments about your ex, it can have a detrimental impact on them. Modeling cooperation and polite behavior sets a positive tone for co-parenting.
Finally, parents can hinder their child’s development by holding onto past grievances. Conversely, they can help them adjust to post-divorce life by providing loving encouragement. It’s important for your child to see you getting along with your ex without letting your emotions get in the way. Do your best to have a cordial, business-like relationship with your ex so that your child won’t feel intense divided loyalties. When a child is confident of the love of both of their parents, they will adjust more easily to divorce. Keeping your differences with your former spouse away from your child will open up opportunities for them to move beyond divorce in the years to come.
Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW is a licensed therapist, author, and college instructor. She and her daughter, Tracy offer a healing community about divorce related issues at Moving Past Divorce. Terry specializes in divorce, stepfamilies, and parenting. She is also a regular contributor to Huffington Post Divorce and enjoys public speaking. You can follow her on Twitter: