"Throughout this book, I felt Bruce had a secret window into my own life and private thoughts. Many private feelings I am currently dealing with were addressed and revealed in a manner that made me feel it is not only normal, but I am truly not alone in this. I was surprised that I cried while reading it and the comfort that the words brought me. I read tons of self-help books, among other types of books, and this book actually gives me hope and things to look forward to. My tears were from the fact that I am facing the words I read. I have been getting negative feedback from outside sources and these words reassured me not to listen, keep them out of your life and do what is right. The section on the other home/parent opened my eyes and freed me. I did not go into reading this book thinking it would help me on such a deep emotional level." ~Dorothy Justice, Vice Chair-Community Action Partnership

May 23, 2013

Struggling to Co-parent as a Team

I’m sure there are divorced parents who figure out a way over time to make it work for the kids. No one would argue it’s best to find a good working balance with your ex for the benefit of the children. These situations do exist, however divorce doesn’t exactly promote popular renewed relationships- ones in which the parents start to work together and find harmony after the fact. Divorce takes time for emotions to heal, adjusting to new roles, and parents to get over themselves.

For the most common circumstances immediately after divorce, parents are just struggling to find themselves and learn new roles/responsibilities. For those who have been through divorce, either as an adult or child, it’s hard to imagine team parenting after the breakup. It's more beneficial for both parents to identify a reasonable and practical equilibrium where decisions are not
made to impact or affect the other household. Legal and physical custody issues aside, lets admit it’s a challenge right out of the gate and few find or work towards compromises.

It’s fair to mention, unfortunately there’s more energy displaced from both parents positioning them selves in the newly formed and ever-changing relationship. Moving forward in life while coping and dealing with divorce affairs may bleed into issues around the children when we are just trying to console ourselves. How these types of concerns or issues play out can be influenced by how time with the children is split between the parents, in my opinion.

If parenting time is divided more evenly week to week, then parents share the same dynamics and therefore the responsibilities with the children and both parents are expected to play out similar roles- tasks may be more evenly expressed in terms of regimented and structured activity in the home, etc. In these cases, team playing between parents is more accessible. However, I can also see how different issues present new challenges in this scenario.

By virtue of a weekday/weekend-parenting dynamic, there are two different objectives at play here that don’t merge. It’s challenging to compare or expect one parent to empathize with the other in this scenario. Obviously it wouldn’t be wise for the "weekend" parent to spite the other parent by purposely unraveling the kid’s schedules, changing dietary habits (read junk food), or becoming the ubiquitous “Disney Parent” creating spoils that will be more contentious in the eyes of the "weekday" parent. Forming inconsistent habits has less benefit to the children and these types of actions create more harm in the long run if you think about it.

By the way, alternating weekends only causes more problems with zero benefits altogether and I would not recommend this parenting time dynamic mainly for the sake of the children- the parent subjected to twice a month visitation only then becomes just that, a visitor. That’s not going to help anyone involved and especially the children. Not only does this dynamic promote the concerns immediately above, it severs relationships. 

Regardless of what parenting-time dynamics are in play, the ideal objective to reach for co-parents is forming respectful bonds in the eyes of the children. After all the kids most likely didn’t ask for the divorce. The closest you can get to this ideal the better for everyone. We don’t have to agree with one another, but we want our children to be happy and we should want them to be so, wherever they are, including the other parent’s home.

Post divorce parenting time dynamics aren’t complicated, but depending on which parenting time is agreed upon may make it challenging for the other. The weekday parent doesn't appreciate the "bad guy" label for keeping kids disciplined to structured tasks. On the other side of the coin, the weekend parent is paying for it in other ways. This parent has less time and misses their kids all week and then tries to make up for it on weekends. If spoils are incorporated and discipline is lacking or completely thrown out the window, then this will be counter-productive to the kid’s weekday schedule and may be viewed as spiteful no matter who is looking on.

Stay consistent on weekends in as many ways as possible, for example when it comes to dinner and bedtime, but this doesn’t mean there can’t be fun. It certainly doesn’t mean you can’t maximize your time with the children by travelling, exploring, developing rituals and bonding in ways that are meaningful. The weekday parent may have to be more creative for rituals and bonding, with less, based on daily requirements to keep the children on schedule. Optimizing vs. maximizing time is this parent’s key to developing what’s important with the children when it comes to enjoying and keeping quality time together.

For the weekday parent, resentment will undoubtedly creep in with how the weekend parent doesn’t manage more similar regimented activities. Creating vast differences in discipline, eating habits, and sleeping habits, for example, doesn’t support the children in either case. More consistency in these areas supports your child’s healthy and emotional development. More, neither parent would want to facilitate an atmosphere that allows the children to manipulate the system and pit one parent off the other. As the weekend parent, respect the importance of keeping the kids on track during school time, daycare, homework, bath time, etc. Children take time to adjust between varying environments and even households.

Yes the one with more custody usually gets, in addition to a fulltime job, all the extra work that comes with getting kids to school, pickups, homework, etc. No one really gets “stuck” with any role if you think about it. Sifting through the challenges and finding bright spots and opportunity, whether its with optimizing or maximizing time with children, may just take a little nerve and creativity in addition to consistency, but the long-term benefits support the overall co-parenting team dynamic. Both parties should at least agree here.

How do you approach co-parenting?

Bruce Buccio resides in Colorado, USA, is a divorced single dad, rebuilding coach and Author of Parenting After Divorce: Rebuilding Your Life And Reaffirming the Relationships that Matter (2013), speaker, court appointed child advocate, mediator, and expert helping families professionally in parenting, family, relationship and life changes. Today, he writes primarily inspired by experiences raising his children, but also writes about inspiration, growth, and love.

Copyright © 2013 Bruce Buccio

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