As our children return to school, we encourage them to have a fresh and successful start:
1. Work hard to achieve your potential
2. Be nice to your teachers and fellow students
3. Follow the rules
As children and families experiencing family transitions, how can parents follow the same rules they ask their children to adhere to particularly as these rules apply to co-parenting.
Achieving your potential as a co-parent
Parents don't naturally know how to co-parent. When a separation in an adult relationship occurs, there are many emotions, stresses and time pressures that truly discourage constructive co-parenting. However, if you have the opportunity to co-parent constructively, you will be saving yourself a tremendous amount of time, sole parenting responsibility and giving your children the gift of two parents being able to walk into a school at the same time, attend a band concert or athletic event at the same time and bring two caring and loving parents together to meet the needs of children.
Behaviorally what does this mean in terms of co-parenting:
• Accept that each parent may have a different perspective, listen to each other and make compromises
• Give each other a chance to learn. A parent may now want to become involved in children's lives in ways that he hadn't in the past. It is fine to learn and the co-parent is the best teacher for this.
• Develop a system that works for your children. Younger children need folders going back and forth from one parent to the other with notes to and from parents to help each parent know what work the child has completed, what work has to be done, papers that the teacher has graded. Older children have projects, reports, exams and parents need to know what is due in each subject, what remains to be done, what challenges the children (regardless of age) may be experiencing.
• Make a pact that you will be a model for your children. They won't be the children shaking when they see both parents attending a school conference because they fear a fight in front of the teacher. Take out a picture of your children and make silent statements to yourself that you are behaving for the benefit of your children and for your own sense of integrity and respect for the co-parent.
• When two parents cannot agree, try not to let the anger and animosity build. Seek help from a co-parent consultant who will remain neutral regarding parents but be an informed advocate for your children. For example, if teachers, child's performance and standardized testing indicate that educational testing is needed to determine what learning challenges your children might have and one parent disagrees with the testing, the parental consultant will give his or her opinion about the testing.
Treat your children's co-parent with respect.
• Children learn from you; if they hear and see you badmouthing their parent, what are you teaching them? Don't be surprised if in time, your children mimic what you have modeled for them.
• Think about your children's feelings about their co-parent and how much both of their parents' involvement means to them. When children see one parent bad mouthing you, yelling at you or embarrassing you and the children at home or in public, it is important to note to the children that you find this behavior unacceptable and hurtful and that you need to set limits so that this doesn't keep happening. (Note that I am supporting your not judging the parent but rather their behavior.)
• Separate all other issues and feelings from the focus at hand: helping your children to succeed. It is difficult. If you are a single parent and the children's other parent is not involved and not helping you or the children, it is really difficult. Instead of dwelling on what you cannot control, seek support from a teacher, relative, school counselor, mental health professional. You deserve support and it can make a world of difference in your parenting.
Follow the Rules
How many times have you listened to your children trying to rationalize their misbehavior? "He made me;" "She did it, not me."
• Look at co-parenting as a business. It is the business of parenting.
• Establish and adhere to rules of civility with your co-parent such as one person speaks at a time, no name calling, yelling or judgmental statements.
• Take a break when you are about to break one of the rules listed above but include in the rule, always getting back to each other within a certain amount of time.
We all know that it takes eight positive statements to make up for one negative. There will be no two people who love your children more than you. What goes around comes around: let your co-parent know when he or she has behaved in a way that helps your children and is respectful to you.
Have a great school year!