There are so many stories from adult children of divorce who remember their parents’ divorce like it was yesterday.
Some talk about being let down over and over again by their fathers who would fail to turn up for scheduled visits.
Others will tell you about how their mothers brainwashed them into hating their other parent to the point where the false beliefs they held not only affected their spent time with their father but also took years to dispel.
You will find situations where the child’s life after divorce is indeed no better than when he lived with combative parents, the only difference now, is that she can sleep knowing that there will be no shouting matches to wake up to. But every exchange time is almost a guarantee that an argument will erupt.
This then means that although your child is looking forward to seeing the other parent, the experience that precedes this union, is fraught with anxiety, fear and dread, emotions that can take a toll on your child over a period of time if persistently experienced.
It’s great when parents create a parenting plan that works for them and their little ones. But, unfortunately, there are so many parents who believe that the creation of such a plan is enough to provide a secure and comfortable life for their children.
I wish it was but it isn’t enough. The co-parenting plan is certainly a first step but in order for this to work successfully you have to continuously keep in mind that this plan is, first and foremost, for your child’s welfare and wellbeing. It’s not about you.
All co-parenting arrangements are or should be about your children.
Co-parenting after divorce or separation needn’t be hell. No. It may not be easy but it needn’t be so.
If for one second you imagine the scenario from your child’s perspective, just take a moment and imagine what he is seeing and hearing, then you will learn just how terribly upsetting it is to hear the exchange of words, the doors slamming, the shouting, the name-calling etc.
If you, as the parent and adult, find yourself getting angry and emotional think what it might be doing to your child; same emotion, little body that doesn’t even have the maturity of managing difficult feelings and thoughts.
Children of divorced parents already have plenty to cope with, plenty to adjust to and at times plenty of emotions without the added anxiety gifted by their parents.
You are supposed to take that anxiety and fear away. Not add to it.
You are supposed to help reconstruct the world for her. Not continue to disassemble it.
Co-parenting is such a wonderful thing. It is the best thing you can do for all children of divorce. It’s shouldn’t be about point scoring. You can do that in other ways, in your own time and making yourself miserable if you must, without using your child as ammunition or holding him hostage.
When you arrive late to pick your daughter up or not turn up at all, what do you imagine she feels? Surely she must feel something. What do you think that is? If this happens over and over again, what do you imagine is going on for her? What feelings or messages is she getting about how you feel about her? Who do you imagine is hurting? Why would you want to put her through that? What’s so important that you decided not to turn up…again? You?
When you take your son back at 8 o’clock on Sunday evening without having had any dinner and in dirty clothes, what do you think is going on in his mind? He has been here before.
He knows mum is going to get angry and dad defensive. Why? Because it’s Sunday evening, he has school tomorrow, but he will be going to bed at 9 or later after he has had a shower and dinner, preparation that you could have done for your child’s sake before taking him back home to start the week.
You’re child is not your priority at that time, you are.
Keep in mind that there is a physical reaction to every emotion and in a situation such as this, the physical reaction is not a positive one and you are the cause.
Joint custody can be hard. It can be extremely challenging especially where you are unfortunate enough to be co-parenting with a narcissist.
What I say to this is do your bit. Play your role as the supportive parent that you want to be. Have a support system where you can take your emotions, thoughts, anxieties and fears.
Just keep your child in mind no matter what. Create your own parenting plan that works for your family. Your child really has no one else.
Your marriage might be over yes, but your family isn’t. It has transformed, changed and it’s time to adjust to that and play along nicely.
Soila is the founder of The Divorce Magazine and Parenting Lives
She is known for taking away the pain of trauma and loss in children, adolescents and their families and the creator of the 4.6 rated online course Parenting after Separation
Soila holds an MSc in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology from UCL (University College London), is an accredited Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) practitioner and a trained Family Mediator.
Soila is Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society.
You can contact her on 07850 85 60 66 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org