Three Steps To Enhance Your Single Parent Experience
Step One: Create a new relationship with the other parent based on Humility.
Whatever your kids have learned about communication, problem solving, respect and tolerance from you and the other parent during the living together phase of your relationship, they will learn a lot more during the separated phase (for one thing, the separated phase will probably last a lot longer).
So what do you want to teach them?
Do you want to teach them bitterness or forgiveness?
Do you want to teach them depression or acceptance?
Do you want to teach them intolerance or flexibility?
Do you want to teach them anger or understanding?
Once you and the other parent have decided not to live together, the reasons that contributed to this decision are unimportant. Shoulds, woulds, coulds and dids are judgment packed references that have historical value, as regards the now defunct partnership. And they have value when considering what to look for when it’s time to have a new intimate relationship. But these judgment packed references can be a huge roadblock to the successful creation of a cooperative co-parenting relationship with your former partner.
And more importantly, they could contribute to the continuation of a conflict-oriented relationship that damages the children’s ability to:
Have an uncomplicated love relationship with both parents
Have easy access to both parents
Establish healthy intimate adult relationships when their time comes
Another major problem with maintaining an anger and judgment based relationship with the other parent is what it does to your relationship with the kids.
Here’s an idea to consider:
When you teach your children to love the other parent your children will learn to love you more. When you teach your children not to love the other parent, your children will learn to fear you.
Here’s why: Your kid/s are made up of half you, half the other parent. Your ability to judge and reject the other parent sends a quiet message to your kids. It tells them that you can judge and reject them as well, because they are half made of the other parent. Don’t bother reassuring them that you can hate and reject the other parent but love them (your kids) unconditionally. When’s the last time you believed a mechanic when they finished a brake job on you car and told you that the thumping sound that’s unnerving you whenever you hit the brakes is nothing to worry about?
Of course you and the other parent have every right to harbor negative feelings towards each other. But are these feelings a sound foundation for building a new relationship with each other that is intended to support your kids? Are these negative feelings so strong that it’s difficult not to express them, even in front of the kids? Are these negative feelings keeping you or the other parent from being able to treat each other fairly regarding visitation, child support, community property or spousal support?
If it’s a cooperative relationship with the other parent that you’re seeking, anger, mistrust, resentment and a desire to punish won’t get you there. The foundation for cooperation, especially between people who have been conflict-oriented, is humility.
Humility is the expression of love that most easily diffuses judgment and defensiveness. After all, if you’re willing to let go of blame, won’t that make it easier for the other parent to let go of it as well?
Humility is tough to achieve when we need anger and judgment to help us disconnect from someone that we have once loved. The irony is that shared children will always keep us together. And, even if it doesn’t feel like it presently, that’s a good thing. Once separated, we must learn to connect with the other parent in a new way that supports love without the expectation of being together.
How do you move past negative feelings to humility?
Ask yourself questions that lead you to where your choices contributed to a terminal relationship. Did you see problems before the marriage (or getting pregnant) and diminished them because you wanted the relationship so badly? What personality traits do you possess that, mixed with the other parent’s traits, inflamed the relationship? What did you learn from your parents about affection, judgment, problem solving and forgiveness? How might these factors have affected your relationship?
Questions such as these provide valuable insight into our own relationship needs and abilities. From this humble perspective, we are able to develop a new relationship with the other parent, a relationship that can be less judgmental and therefore less defensive. And when we are less defensive, we are able to be more tolerant, flexible, creative and caring in the way that we redesign our new “two home” family.
By the way, you don’t have to share your personal; insights with the other parent. It might not be an emotionally safe thing to do. Being humble does not mean being vulnerable at the wrong time.
Bring this perspective of Humility to the negotiation table and you will not only walk away with more for the whole family, you will walk away with a “whole” new family.
Step Two: Expand the idea of what a “Whole Family” is.
As much as possible, avoid using the term “Single Parent”. It brings with it the curse of isolation. This, during a time in our lives when we ought to expand our circle of love and support! We still have it in the name of our organization. But I hope that we will discover another term that is equally descriptive and yet lighter.
Most of the time, the other parent is available at some level of support. It’s important for your health and the emotional welfare of your kids that the other parent be involved. Co-operative co-parenting between separated, divorced or never married parents can be as effective, for the whole family, as the more traditional “two parents under the same roof” family plan. The focused attention that the children receive from the present parent can strengthen the love bond between them while enabling the other parent to recharge their parent batteries and have necessary adult time.
Therefore, make it as easy as possible for both parents to have an abundance of time with the kids. Here are some fundamental points to consider:
Live close to each other.
As far as possible, make career choices that give both of you some flexibility with your schedules.
Similarly, make career choices that make you less financially dependent on each other. If this means enhancing your education, support each other in this personal venture that ultimately serves the whole family.
Keep each other informed about everything that impacts the kid’s lives such as Parent-Teacher conferences, children’s activities and illnesses or injuries.
Avoid new intimate relationships with anyone who is insecure about your ongoing parent relationship or jealous about the time that you want to spend with your kids.
Successful co-parenting has three “C”s:
Step Three: Respect Your Children’s Right To Love Both Parents.
Here is a very important point, and I hope that you agree with it:
Children get to be small.They don’t have to understand things that are complex. They don’t have to be responsible for taking care of their parents. They don’t have to be afraid to love one parent for fear that the other parent will be angry with them. Certainly, the older the kids are, the more they can be expected to handle. But it is important to respect their right to never have to handle anything that isn’t theirs. That includes their parents’ financial struggles, conflicts, accusations and indictments against each other.
So if you are having a major meltdown in your relationship with the other parent, remember where you are when you need to let off steam. Would you drive a raging bull through a beautiful garden? Probably not. Think of your kid’s love for you and the other parent as a fragile, beautiful garden and point the raging bull in another direction.
The Children’s Boundaries that follow are pretty basic, you probably are already aware of them and respecting them. But if you or the other parent is having trouble keeping any of these, please give us a call or email us at Sole Support and ask for the more detailed article on children’s boundaries called: Entering The Children’s Home..
Remember, your kids have the absolute right to love the other parent without reservation. Even if the other parent is ignoring these boundaries, you must not. Respect your kid’s boundaries so that they have an emotionally safe, uncomplicated place to call home.
Once these boundaries are mastered, co-operative co-parenting becomes the single most important element in creating a stress-free and conflict-free family plan.
The Children’s Boundaries are as follows:
Don’t expect a child to feel the way you do about the other parent
Don’t ask a child to keep a secret from the other parent
Don’t ask a child to spy on the other parent
Don’t relay messages to the other parent through your child
Don’t ask a child how you should solve a problem with the other parent
Don’t tell your child about any conflicts between you and the other parent
Don’t pry information about the other parent’s life or home from your child
These boundaries fall into a category called Triangulation. It means that we are forcing our kids to get meshed into our adult relationship. This enmeshment may create feelings of anxiety, conflict, confusion and emotional withdrawal for the kids. So remember to respect their rights before you involve them in anything that has to do with the other parent.
Comfort your children through the difficult transition from a two parent home to a two home family plan with love and hugs. Respect their right to be kids. They don’t need to have the complex pressures that tear adult relationships apart explained to them.
Another children’s boundary falls into a category that we call: Parentification.
This is a term that we attach to actions that cause a child to have to take on responsibilities that they are not ready for, either age-wise or maturity-wise. This happens when two-parent homes become single-parent homes and a child is suddenly thrust into the role of caretaker for the other kids. It can also happen when a parent who is overwhelmed by stress, loneliness and grief becomes emotionally needy and the children become sources of emotional support for the parent.
Parentification significantly contributes to feelings of guilt and co-dependency for children who have been victim to it. So be very careful in the way that you assign responsibilities to your kids. Of course reduced adult support and financial limitations sometimes necessitate a child’s taking on additional responsibilities for the family. While many children seem to thrive on added responsibility, be careful to provide that child with plenty of opportunity to be the child that they are. Very often a child will get a lot of ego gratification from behaving like a “little adult” only to discover later on, that they have lost the ability to be spontaneous, flexible and playful.
In addition, be sure to have plenty of emotional support for yourself from other adults so that you don’t unwittingly lean on your kids for your emotional needs.
And if you’ve ever heard a parent say: “My kid is my best friend”, buy them a book on boundaries as fast as you can!
To summarize: Three Steps to take to make Single Parenting easier:
It’s much easier to build a cooperative co-parent relationship when parents connect with humility rather that judgment. Behaving humbly and with tolerance and acceptance also teaches our children healthier ways to relate with others.
Avoid the isolating label “Single Parent”. You are a co-parent with a partner who lives elsewhere. Mutual support is more productive and healing. If that other person has completely disappeared and you can’t find them, then try to maintain an ongoing relationship with relatives from the other parent’s side of the family.
Learn what your children’s rightful boundaries are and respect them. It will make their home with you a much safer place to be. That will ease the air of tension that so often permeates a single parent’s home (and get rid of this term, will you!). Respecting your kid’s boundaries will also significantly reduce the opportunity for conflict between you and the other parent. Rudy can by contacted at 949.837.7653
Copyright 2000 Rudolf Louis Garcia, Founder, Sage Stones- All Rights Reserved; Written by permission of the author.