Tips for successful co-parenting

Tug of war: what children get stuck in when parents do not cooperate

Co-parenting is the cooperative parenting by exes in the best interests of their child. It involves sharing parental duties. It may also include step-parents should the separated couple seek new partners.  It is of utmost importance that the parents work together to raise well-balanced, disciplined children despite any differences that they may have. This involves some level of civility towards each other, which may seem obvious but which is not always the case and many fail at. They engage in constant arguments, belittling and bad mouthing each other and sometimes going as far as alienating the other parent, denying them access to their child and cutting off all communication. This is bad for the kids as they have a right to have a relationship with both parents.

When you behave badly towards your ex in front of your child, or bad-mouth them to your child, you diminish yourself, your ex-spouse, and most of all,  you diminish your child. You dent their self-esteem. You put them in the awkward position of choosing between parents whom they love in equal measure and worst still you make them blame themselves for the breakup.

So how then do you make co-parenting work? How do you create an environment that allows the children to enjoy the love of all their parents while not sacrificing important aspects such as discipline?

Realize that you are ex-spouses not ex-parents

Whereas your relationship may have come to an end your parenting is forever. As painful as the breakup is, you will have to put that aside when it comes to matters that concern the well-being of your children. Talk to each other and cooperate on all issues regarding the children such as school activities, hobbies, interaction with extended members of the family, birthdays and other milestones in their lives. Your children desire to have a relationship with the both of you. They don’t care about what happened or who did what to who. Focus on loving them and demonstrating this love by showing up for them. That is all they want

Speak positively about the other parent or don’t speak at all

When parents badmouth each other or use mean and unkind words when speaking about the other parent, the children feel like they are being put down as well. In their minds they translate it to mean that they too are just as bad simply because they are an extension on their parents. Using comparison statements like “you are just like your mother/father” especially in negative light, chips away at your children’s hearts and should be avoided at all costs even when there is truth to the statements. For example if a parent promised to pick up the children to spend some time together,  doesn’t do it and the kids get upset or sad about it say something like “I know you’re sad that daddy/mommy wasn’t able to make it today. I am pretty sure there is a perfectly good explanation for it and he/she will tell you the next time you meet “. This is a much better response than “Your father/mother can’t keep his/her promises, this is one of the the reasons why I left her”. Get the gist?

If you really cannot say anything positive then don’t say anything at all.

Have and keep visitation schedules

After separation or divorce it takes time for the children to adjust to the new living arrangements. They will miss their old family and want it back. They will also really miss the absent parent. Parents need to provide some level of structure and predictability in their interactions. Children thrive in environments with structure so try to have this as much as you have control over. Make visitation schedules that allow them to spend time with the parent who is away and try as much as possible to stick to it. Agree on certain routines to be practiced in both homes for example meal times, playtime, bedtime, household chores, curfews and the like. That way both homes are similar to some extent and you can spare yourself the agony of having the kids being spoilt while with the other parent which is a very common issue.

Not all the rules will necessarily be applicable to the other household but both sets of rules need to be honored. It is your job as parents to reinforce them not just with words but in action because children are constantly watching your actions.

Your children are NOT messengers nor are they spies

Your children should really be left to be just that. Children. If you need to convey a message to the other parent and especially if it is a matter that frustrates you do it in person and resolve it without putting your children in the middle of it. Do not send your kids to deliver your messages or pry into the other household’s affairs by questioning them about the other parent and their activities. This puts them under pressure to watch what they say and do in a particular home. They will be afraid to mess up or let you down, which is completely unfair to them and robs them of their childhood and innocence.

Respect the privacy of the other home.

Co-parenting is not easy but you have to make it work for the sake of your children. Putting them and their happiness first is a good way to keep yourself in check as you work through whatever obstacles that come your way.

 

 

Money questions you should ask before marrying a single parent

When I was doing my pre-marital counseling sessions there was one thing that really frustrated me, all the content, good as it was, made reference to the ideal first time couple. The virgin couple who would experience sex for the first time on their wedding night. The one that had no children from previous relationships, no exes constantly in your business and no extra set of relatives to put up with. The couple whose past remained exactly there, in the past. My hubby and I didn’t quite fit in this mold and I am pretty sure we were not the only ones. The advice we got was good for an ideal situation but we needed a little extra because some wheels were already in motion. We were a ready made family therefore the questions would be different and would require a different answer and approach all together.

Money is one of the biggest causes of friction and conflict in a marriage.  Anne Landers said “All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership”.

 

Discuss every dark detail of your financial life before embarking on marriage to your new partner

In order to have that healthy and constructive battle there are some specific aspects of marriage that every couple needs to discuss and address before they marry. Aspects such as the family values to be upheld, whether to have children or not and how many, dealing with in-laws, finances, spiritual life, couple sex and intimacy and many more. That is why we are encouraged to get pre-marital counselling in order to bring these areas to light and to give the couple an  opportunity to air their views of each matter and then together agree on what the family approach will be.

Couples with no children have the benefit of starting on a blank page and defining everything a fresh. They have no one else to consult but each other. They call the shots. For those who come into marriage with children from a previous relationship this is a much more complex and difficult discussion. The budget will include more items and considerations such as the children, the ex, already established lifestyles; making it an even more crucial discussion to have.

Discussing every dark detail of your financial life before embarking on marriage to your new partner will make your lives easier and help your marriage succeed. Here is a list of twelve questions that you should ask your spouse to get the conversation started and agree on the way forward for your family’s financial well being. During the discussion please adhere to the ‘no heat, no judgement’ rule. Do not go off on your partner for having a different opinion and don’t judge them either. Let it be a safe space to share and agree on what you will do for your family going forward.

 

‘no heat, no judgement’. Let it be a safe space to share and agree on what you will do for your family going forward.

 

  1. What are your current financial obligations?
  2. Are you financially supporting your children/ Are you receiving child support ? What is the agreement with the ex spouse? How much and how frequent are the payments? Will they increase or decrease in future? When will they end? What do we do when we don’t receive scheduled child support?
  3. Do you have any joint debts with your ex spouse? (loans, mortgages, businesses, credit cards etc) If yes, how do you plan to remove yourself from these joint debts?
  4. What expectations do you have for me to support your family?
  5. Do you have any financial commitments to your parents, siblings, or other family members?
  6. Do we both have active employment? How will we handle childcare given our work schedules?
  7. What will our individual financial responsibilities towards running the home be? rent,utilities,insurance, education
  8. How will we handle the holidays?
  9. How will we unify our finances? Are we comfortable with one bank account or will we have “yours,” “mine,” and “joint”?
  10. What do we want to teach our children about money? Will we give allowances and in what amount?
  11. How will we resolve differences in spending and saving practices?
  12. How will we handle investments, property titles/deeds, insurance, wills?

Remember that whatever plan you come up with will not be static but will evolve as the seasons of life and other factors come to play in your every day life, so set some time discuss this and adjust the plan as and when change presents itself.

 

Meet your ex-in-law: Part 2 Dealing with the challenges

In my last blog post we discussed the new member of your step-family, your ex-in-law. We saw how he/she is a big part of your family whether you like it or not and got into the most common issues and sources of conflict in your family due to this dynamic. If you missed it you can check it out HERE.

Today we will go through how you deal with these challenges, avoid unnecessary conflict and confidently deal with the ones that do materialize

Loyalty Declaration

Your partner needs to communicate your presence and relationship to both his ex and the children. He/she needs to let them know they have a new partner (the step-mom or step-dad) who is now going to be a member of the family. This should be done early enough during dating when the couple determines the permanency of their relationship. This gives everyone ample time to adjust the change slowly and at their own pace in all aspects of step-family life like the emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, legal changes involved. It also goes a long long in giving the step-mom/step-dad that first credibility before they form their own relationships with the existing family

No Threat Message

This is probably the single most effective way to avoid unnecessary conflict. The no threat message says to the biological parent that you realize you are not their children’s biological parent and neither are you trying to replace them. The earlier this is communicated verbally, in writing and with actions the better for all family members. This is especially true for the biological parent and their children.  For the children this will give them the freedom to love everyone without feeling like they are betraying their biological parent. Small gestures can go a long way to communicating this to children. For example, letting the children make phone calls to their parents, freedom to visit their parents, not badmouthing their parents in their presence

You are not moms/dads replacement

Its important to realize that you are not the replacement for the children’s mom or dad. The role of the step-parent is usually very ambiguous and confusing if one is not well educated on the step-family dynamics. Very many fall into the trap of staging a hostile take over forcing everyone to recognize and respect their position and authority. This approach will always backfire. Give yourself time to bond with the children and slowly you will earn their respect and they will look up to you as an authority. During this time your partner should take the lead role in the parenting aspects. Its also important that they discuss with the children minimum standards of respect for you the step-parent. The love will take time to form and patience is key

Couple Strength

This is extremely important for any step-family. The dynamics of this family presents a lot of challenges and if the couple is unable to present a united front, the challenges can escalated to levels that increase the stress and strain in the marriage. Discuss issues respectfully with each another and agree on resolution with each partner working on their contribution. Talk about the ex and the challenges you are struggling with and together with your partner agree on the best approach to overcome them for a stronger family. This also applies to any other challenges that will come your way

Be open to learning

Finally the secret to success of step-families is getting smart about step-family life. Getting smart means learning all you can about step-family dynamics, how step-families function, operate best, and why they have the unique challenges that they do. This will help you make informed decisions not just based on your emotions/feelings. Adopt the attitude of a learner.

Have a great week!

Meet your ex-in-law

One of the most common sources of conflict in step-families is the ex-spouse. An ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend always make the blood of a step-parent boil and their hearts bpm go from 62 to 162. For starters the thought that your partner would have chosen that ex and you in the same lifetime is unfathomable because you are just waaaaaaaaaaaay to different right? Yet here you are now in a situation where you are in each others lives whether you like it or not. No one really has a choice here simply because some DNA combined and formed tiny little humans and that is a lifetime connection.  Step-moms are especially most affected by this. Simply because they are up against ‘mom’. No one goes head to head against ‘mom’ and expects to win. Mom has trophies and mugs declaring she is the best in the world, she is thanked daily and is told just how much she means. Heck! there is a whole day every year dedicated just to her and all the wonderful things she has done in her children’s lives and in turn her country and the world. Songs have been sung for and about her. For step-moms who make it happen for their stepchildren day in day out with little or no recognition at all this can be a bit too much to bear especially if mom isn’t all that and a bag of chips in the parenting department.

Meet your ex-in-law. The only reason I call them in-law is because just like your in-laws they are a part of your family whether you like it or not, whether you love them or not. I can already see you cringing at the thought. I also struggled with it but honestly speaking, they are not going anywhere especially if they are actively involved in their children’s lives. As a step-parent the sooner you accept this the better for you. Its the first step towards the having healthy relationships with all those in your step-family.

Having an ex-in-law presents quite a number of challenges for the step-parent. In this 3 part article I will take you through the most common challenges and sources of conflict and how you can overcome them. So lets have a look at the common complaints

Badmouthing

This is the number one complaint for stepparents and more so step-moms. Basically this is the bio parent speaking ill of the step-parent in the presence of the children and vice versa. This is not healthy and all it does is create a rift in your family relations. A step-parent who badmouths a biological parent is setting themselves up for serious failure with regard to their relationship with the children. Essentially what they are doing is creating a loyalty competition from the children which a match lost before it even begins. Children will always side with mom and dad when they feel pressured to choose.

We all have opinions of the ex-in-law some good, some bad and some just down right ugly but there are other ways to sort out issues which are negatively affecting the family. Use these channels and leave the kids out of it.

Controlling through the children

Women have for a long time used their children to get what they wanted either for themselves or for their children. Not the best show of parenting skills but it happens. Am reminded of the story of Rebecca in the Bible and how she helped Jacob get the brothers inheritance by duping Isaac. Not cool…. not cool at all. Things are no different today. Some women use their children to get money to finance their lifestyles and push whatever agenda they want. They use their children to spy on the activities of the other home to see how they can sabotage or cash in on different situations. This creates a lot of mistrust and conflict in the step-family with the step-parents bearing the brunt of it all

Money

Studies have shown that one of the leading causes of divorce and conflict in marriage is money. If you think its difficult in a family where you are all blood, try handling finances in a step-family. Its like playing minesweeper. One click and boom! major conflict. When you combine his, mine and ours babies needs in a budget then the fireworks really start to spark. Now if there is no structure for all players to adhere to then everyone is always fighting for what they think is right for them or their children, easily forgetting that they are a family.

Lifestyle differences and income disparities between the bio and step-parents homes is also a source of conflict and if not managed well will only make the family break apart.

Insecurity

Everyone is anxious about themselves. The step-mom feels like an outsider who is unappreciated for all her efforts and is sidelined, the step-dad feels like he not king in his castle. He makes it happen for his wife and her kids but none of them recognize this. Bio mom feels like her position is threatened and will be snatched from her while bio dad if not stressed by trying to make everything right for his wife and children, is threatened by the man who is raising his children. Every player has their own fears. As humans fear presents only one option of us. To fight. Get them before they get me, attack them before they attack me. This may sound like good advice by soldiers on a battle field but these words are worrying in a family setting and if acted upon will only spell doom for everyone.

So how do you deal with the challenges? Find out in part 2 of ‘Meet your ex-in-law’

There are No Ex-parents, Only Ex-Spouses

If you are a single mother who is dating someone you must have at one point felt like this. Questions race through your head. What about my children? Will they accept and love the new man in my life? Will my new partner accept them or take off like the last guy?  What will my ex feel about another man coming near his kids let alone raising them? How will I make this relationship work despite my heavy workload at home as a mum and with my job? When will I ever have some ‘me’ time?

If you think that single dads don’t ask the same questions then think again! they do, and can be just as stressed out about the situation like any single mum. Some common aspects about single parent families irrespective of who permanently has the children are;

  • The parents want to find new love, start a new life with new partners. Whereas they could be ready to move on,the children are always not.
  • The guilt of breaking up the home may result in loss of proper parenting and discipline for the kids. The mum/dad may focus on pleasing the children, showering them with gifts, lots of entertainment. One parent may end up playing both good cop and bad cop.
  • Bad mouthing of one parent by the other.This completely confuses the children as they feel torn between the dad and mum and this may affect their self esteem
    The new partners in the parents lives may disagree with their parenting skills which brings conflict between the couple
  • Parents may willingly/unwillingly decide not to co-parent. The gaps in parenting are clearly seen by the children and they may play the parents against each other to get their way.

These are just a tip of the iceberg. There are other aspects that have to be acknowledged and proactively dealt with. Single parents are potential step-families and if they don’t realize this early and start working towards a working co-parenting model then this strains the relations with their children, their former spouse as well as their new partner. So here is

Lesson #5

There are no ex-parents, only ex-spouses. It doesn’t matter what the hell happened between the two of you. How angry or resentful you might be to your former spouse or how willing, accepting and loving your new partner is to your children. Your children need you to parent them together. They need your guidance and discipline throughout their lives so do not deny them this right. Work out a co-parenting structure with your ex for the sake of the children and for a solid foundation should you want to make your future blended family work.