by Todd Creager
This article on healthy co-parenting will hopefully get you thinking about your own situation or if you are not in a co-parenting situation, you could pass this article on to someone who is. It is nearly impossible to have a thriving marital relationship when children are out of control or there is constant chaos. And one way to ensure that there is constant chaos is to present a divided front to the kids. Children are excellent at the Divide and Conquer strategy and we have to take our hats off to them because there job is to get there way. We should never blame the children for being out of control, disrespectful, lazy, etc. Children do not continue behavior where there is not a benefit.
The best way to have a family where there is respect and some kind of order is to have a hierarchy where the parents are presenting a united front and are the bosses and the children, though honored and listened to, are the rule followers. In this kind of family, there are no continued benefits for children who are not being cooperative and respectful. And it is important to note that feeling power counts as a benefit. Kids feel power when they have divided the parents whether they eventually get their way or not.
OBSTACLES TO STAYING UNITED AS PARENTS
1) You have different ideas about what is important and worth being firm about. For example- she requires the house to be neat and you have a higher tolerance for mess. Also, your partner is more or less easy going than you about other things as well including time, getting tasks done, chores, homework, etc.
2) You are already resentful or unhappy with your spouse about other issues. Believe me- whether you are aware of it or not, the unresolved issues you have with your spouse will get in the way of you being a united front with her as you deal with the children.
3) One of you likes to keep the peace and stays allied with the kids to avoid conflict. (even though this never ultimately works)
4) One of you has partially or totally abdicated your parental role and lets the other do the dirty work.
SOLUTIONS TO OBSTACLES (Each solution corresponds with the number of the obstacle)
My disclaimer here is that the solutions that follow this paragraph are not always easy to implement. We have our own internal resistance to change and our partner and children do not always make it very easy for this change to occur. Just keep in mind that you ARE capable of being a more effective co-parent and that it often takes at least 6 exposures to new behaviors before you see a change in the family system. Don t be discouraged if your attempts don t give the results you want right away.
1) Discuss with your partner those potential areas of conflict. Respect her (or his) differences and strive to reach a workable compromise if need be. If you expect to have it totally your way, you are asking your partner to basically be invisible. In order to be united, both parents need to feel that who they are and what their preferences happen to be are considered. Both people need to feel significant. I like to say that each parent brings their own brand of wisdom. Be careful not to overvalue your own brand of parental wisdom and devalue your partner s.
2) Be very conscious to separate out your marital issues with your parenting decisions. Having a united front is what is best for the children. If you need to, see a therapist to work out your issues. Read my book coming out very shortly, The Long, Hot Marriage (OK- so there is a little shameless marketing) to learn how to connect with your partner through thick and thin, pain and pleasure.
3) If you are trying to keep the peace, know that it is only a very temporary peace if that. The only way to have real peace is to have some structure and order in the house. Children need to know what the rules are. Their job is to test the rules; your job is to lovingly and calmly set the rules, enforce the rules, show appreciation when they make good choices and love them no matter what.
One of the most important lessons children can learn is the benefit of making good choices. If you are not setting up limits and consequences, how are you preparing your children for the real world where people are naturally rewarded for good choices and ultimately pay a price for poor choices? Find out from your partner what his ideas are about what choices he wants to encourage your children to make. If there are disagreements between the two of you, reread # 1 above and ultimately write down the agreed upon rules of the house and the rewards and consequences of the choices they can make. Put it on the refrigerator for all family members to see.
4) The person who has abdicated his or her role as parent and is basically emotionally absent needs to understand where he learned this behavior. Usually, he had at least one parent who remained aloof from the day to day challenges. If you came from a family where one or both of your parents were uninvolved, decided to change the script. You were harmed by your parent s lack of involvement and you have the power to choose something different for your child. And let me repeat myself and be clear- if you are an uninvolved parent- you are harming your child, no doubt about it.
Your child needs your involvement so that he or she grows up healthier than you did. Also, your partner needs you to be more involved for her sake as well. As long as there are two parents alive and well, both parents involvement is necessary. That does not mean that each person has to be equally involved in the lives of the children, but both should be involved in giving attention, in the disciplining and in the major decisions.
Creating a united front takes work because you both are different people. I suggest strongly that you make healthy co-parenting a priority. The key is to become aware of your differences, find ways to compromise and develop the policies I talked about above. As you deal with this potential landmine more effectively, it frees you up to have the more satisfying relationship that you would like.
From Sarah: Todd Creager is fantastic – an accomplished Speaker, Therapist, Consultant and Author. His advice is both insightful and practical. You can find much more at his Center for Successful Relationships