A friend recently pointed out an article with some good advice for divorcing parents. In “Dr. Phil: Dos and Don’ts For Co-Parenting With Your Ex“, he makes a number of points about putting the children’s best interests first. Some of my favorites are:
Don’t disparage each other or allow the children to talk disrespectfully about the other parent. Both parents are extremely important to the children’s healthy development. Anything that harms the children’s attachment to either parent is likely to harm the children in ways that are difficult for you to even anticipate. If you want your children to grow into emotionally stable adults, do everything you can to preserve their positive relationships with both parents.
Keep each other informed directly rather than through the children. Besides the obvious fact that children are likely to forget or garble messages, an important part of co-parenting is remembering that you and your ex are still partners, however reluctantly, in the job of raising your children. It is hard to do a good job on anything when you don’t communicate with your partner. And the more you communicate, the more you can create a consistent environment for your children, rather than having them constantly moving back and forth between two conflicting sets of environments. Frankly, the more the rules and expectations vary between the two households, the more likely I would think that the children would start to see BOTH as arbitrary.
Never force your child to choose sides. A child who sides against a parent is likely to carry a lot of guilt about the decision. Making a choice against a parent is also going to be destructive to the child’s relationship with that parent, and may even cause the child to think less of that parent as they seek to justify the choice in their own mind.
Lastly, don’t convert your own guilt into overindulgence. It is not uncommon for a parent who only sees the children on weekends, for instance, to spend the time just making sure the children have as much fun as possible. But that is really abdicating your role as a parent, which is helping your children grow into healthy adults. Overindulgence may instead teach many negative lessons, such as not having to work for rewards, that rules don’t apply to them, and could even serve to alienate them from the other parent who has to take on the role of the only disciplinarian. It is great to have a good time with your children, but not to the point that doing so is detrimental to their development.