Mary O’Connor, MFT, on how to foster a healthy and positive relationship between both parenting parties.
Have you ever wondered how it feels to ring the doorbell of the house you once lived in and wait for your child to come to the door? Have you ever called over to the other house your children live in and been told your child is too busy to come to the phone? Equality in co-parenting doesn’t look like that!
Those are only two example of the many humiliations experienced by non-custodial fathers after divorce.
In our counseling offices, we talk to many mothers who wonder what to do to help fathers maintain their dignity as a parent while having to cut their time with their child in half.
They see the depression on the ex-husband’s face after possibly losing his home, his wife, and his kids. He is a “fish out of water” while mom is still mom almost full-time.
A divorced mom may see her ex as a person who is redefining his role as a parent and feel unequipped to help him out of his depression or anxiety. She may also be watching a father who is now taking on a greater role in his kids’ lives than he used to and feel confused.
Resentments over past hurts aside, divorced moms, it is now time to co-parent. The following helpful hints have been actions that other divorced moms have taken to bring equality to the shared parenting time with their ex and the father of their children.
1. First, check your attitude when dropping your child off at their Dad’s home. Are you in a bad mood, or upbeat and enjoying the ride. How you behave on the way to the drop off location gives your child either a message of approval or disapproval. “I will see you Sunday” in an upbeat way trumps a worried look as you drop your child off to spend time with his/her father.
2. Don’t ask any nosey questions after the visitation. Only ask about things that have to do about your relationship with your child. What goes on at Dad’s house, stays at Dad’s house, unless Dad wants to call and relay a cute story or concern about a bandaged knee. Show interest in your child’s stories about being at the Dad’s house, but don’t make the mistake of grilling your child to find out information about a girlfriend, staying up too late, or any other infraction you may think Dad is guilty of.
3. Show the other parent respect by letting him in on your child’s school and extra-curricular activities. Send him copies of report cards, school pictures, a calendar of soccer games, dentist appointments, and even birthday parties. Show your child’s Dad that he is in on this business of raising your child and there are no secrets you are keeping from him. Put his name and number on the emergency contact form at school. Notify him of parent/teacher conferences, grandparents day, etc. He may be unable to make all the activities, but your sharing of information will give him the opportunity to be more involved.
We have found that many Dads who used to believe those activities were Mom’s responsibility now cherish extra moments with their kids, regret their lack of involvement before the divorce and now want to make up for lost time. Graciously let him make up for lost time. Your child will benefit from extra Dad time. Call or email the other parent when your child gets a good grade, loses a tooth, or painted a beautiful picture. Including Dad in the day to day events of your child’s life means the world to Dad, and only takes a minute for you.
4. Say thanks when the child support check arrives, return phone calls, emails, talk in a civil tone and be flexible when he needs to make changes due to work or family obligations. You want the same courtesy on your end if you need to make adjustments to the schedule. Appreciate the time frame that he spends parenting your children and do your best not to criticize anything that happened at his house.
You no longer have control over his parenting style with your child, get used to it. Don’t become a “gatekeeper Mom.” Remind yourself that the divorce entitles him to parent your child without you looking over his shoulder. Dad’s parent differently than mom’s. The kids are not to be put in the judge’s seat to hold up a card for the parent with the highest score. His parenting time is his parenting time. He doesn’t question your parenting prowess during your time; you get to keep a closed mouth on whatever good idea you might want to impart about his parenting time. What a freedom that gives Dad to be himself with his own child!
5. Since many Dads are ordered to take parenting classes to learn the developmental needs of the kids, and others may be ordered to take anger management classes, you may ask them if they have copies of the materials so you can learn something too or better yet, enroll yourself in one of the classes. One comment heard frequently in the classes are, “Why wasn’t my ex-wife ordered to attend these classes too?
6. You can build your child’s self-esteem by complimenting your ex. He is, after all contributor of half of your child’s DNA. You can point out your child’s ability to solve puzzles as something her Dad is good at too. You can make a comment like “I love your dimples. You have your Dad’s pretty dimples.” This statement helps the child connect the dots between their parents, and reduces tension they feel when going back and forth between houses. Dad is buoyed by the fact that you still like his dimples even though you couldn’t live together on a day to day basis.
7. When asked by your child about why you separated the best answer is “Your Dad and I had so many differences and we just couldn’t fix them.” That takes away the good guy, bad guy aspect of the divorce and allows your ex to do his own explanation.
Doing the above will make for a more egalitarian co-parenting relationship and the respect for one another will be all in the best interests of your child.
This article originally appeared on Divorced Moms.
Photo credit: Getty Images