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Parenting Beyond the Great Divide

Parenting Beyond the Great Divide

A Survival Guide for Raising Children in Two Homes

Frank Leek, Ph.D.

BUILDING A SHARED PARENTING TEAM FOR A LIFETIME

 

What to Do When Hell Freezes Over

 

The Judge gently tapped her gavel, ending the marriage of six years between Aaron and Nancy. Their divorce was final…at least legally. They had been divorcing for over a year and their anger actually increased over that time. The Judge admonished them to cooperate in the best interest of their child. Her final order was for Aaron and Nancy to enroll in counseling to learn co-parenting skills.

 

Nancy was willing to start therapy, but Aaron was not. He was still emotionally bruised from the divorce process and was reluctant to begin therapy, saying, “I will sit down in the same room with that woman when Hell freezes over.”

 

Several months later Aaron called, and apologetically said, “Well, I guess Hell just froze over.”  He agreed to call Nancy and took the responsibility to schedule an appointment for therapy. During the intake session he said their daughter recently spilled a glass of milk and was very agitated. She had looked up at him and said, “I try to be good! Don’t leave!” He realized that the residue of marital conflict was not just between the parents, it involved their daughter as well.

 

After the divorce is final, mediators, attorneys, evaluators and judges move on to other families, leaving the divorced parents with the most difficult task of all: moving past their own conflicts and learning to raise their child in two homes.

 

When parents separate they vow their child will not be hurt, believing their child will actually be better off living in two homes, sheltered from the arguments of two unhappy parents. As they go through the divorce, parents find it difficult to remain focused on the goal of keeping the child out the conflict. When they realize that their child is hurting, they accept that they must learn new skills, working together to help their child adjust to the many changes brought about by divorce. As uncomfortable as it might feel, they must talk with each other, for the sake of their child.

 

After the separation and divorce, most parents begin to rebuild their lives, working to avoid prolonged conflict and making sure their child is cared for. But learning to raise a child in two homes is not easy. Anger between divorcing parents endures. Not because they are bad, or mean or crazy, but because they are stuck. In fact, most of the parents who continue to fight only do so because they don’t know how to stop. Once parents learn the basic skills of shared parenting, they can move past their conflict and get down to the business of raising their child in two homes. As they learn co-parenting skills, the goal is not to become good friends. Rather, they can develop a new relationship based on respectful boundaries.

 

Parents can be in a crisis mode for only so long, then something has to give. You can develop terrible headaches. You can go broke. You can become cranky and irritable. You can lose your job because of poor concentration. You can fail to learn the necessary skills to be effective co-parents. You can give up all the joys of your life and focus only on how weak and helpless you are in the face of the other parent’s terrible, controlling behavior. You can get sick and die. Being in a crisis mode is in some way going to eat you alive.

 

Or you can move from the crisis of divorce conflict to the life-long practice of no-fault shared parenting. If you do that, you will have time to develop a hobby, go back to school, get a job, or even make friends. You may even want to write a book: “How I survived five minutes of wedded bliss and ten years of divorce hell.” You can quit going to your internist with those strange stress disorders: “But doctor, my left elbow twitches every time I hear the word Ex. Don’t you have a pill to cure that?”

 

You have some choices to make. You can keep on fighting or learn a new skill. You can continue blaming your ex or make the changes you need to make. You can maintain your false pride or learn to be truly proud of being a good co-parent.

 

The purpose of Shared Parenting Beyond the Great Divide is to help you along the path of recovery and discovery.  Recovery from divorce, if you let it, can be a growth experience, or you can hold on to anger, resentment, and rage, forever a victim. Discovery can be the process of growth and change for the good of all.

Shared Parenting by Co-parents

Parents choose to raise their children in two homes for several reasons. Some parents have never lived together and their relationship consisted of a single sexual contact. Some parents lived together and never married. Some parents married, had children and decided to live separately, resulting in a two home family. The majority of parents raising children in two homes were married had children and then divorced. Although each reason reflects a difference in emotional attachment, this five-step guide applies to all reasons.

 

Shared Parenting does not necessarily mean “fifty-fifty”. As long as there are two parents, each without a fatal flaw that creates a danger to a child, they are faced with the tasks of sharing parenthood. Whether it is “one-ninety-nine” or “fifty-fifty”, each child deserves the best of each parent, which can only be achieved by parent to parent communication and a modicum of parental maturity.

 

Five Steps To No-fault Shared Parenting

 

As you read this book you will learn a five-step method of co-parenting your child who is living in two homes. The steps are based on many years of experience: mine, colleagues who have completed the workshop for therapists, and parents who have completed the Shared Parenting Support Program. The Five-Step Guide to raising your child in two homes presents not the way to do it but one way--a way that has worked for many families who have struggled with the same issues you face. This five-step guide is not a substitute for trusting your own instincts and common sense.  If you have found an effective solution to some of the co-parenting tasks, use them. If not, consider these steps:

Step One:         The Transition

 

Parents must make the “ultimate” decision: to stay with the other parent or to divorce and learn to raise their child in two homes. Whether you have made your decision or are struggling to do so, read Chapter One. There are three types of relationships to consider. One is very destructive, one is difficult but can be repaired, and the third is the “normal marriage” with the usual ups and downs. Learn how these differ and what that can mean to you. Use the worksheet to help you make your own decision.

 

At the time of separation, each parent must make a decision about hiring an attorney. It is necessary to understand your options, the roles of attorneys and how to interview attorneys for the best match.

 

Many of you will also need to work with a mental health professional to assist with mediation, to conduct a family evaluation, or assist you in recovering from the divorce. There are questions you can ask when selecting a mental health professional that will help you find the person best suited for the job.

 

Once the decision to separate is made, parents must focus on the needs of their child. Fighting about the time your child will be with you is understandable, but unhealthy. Now is the time to clearly examine what is in the best interest of your child. You will be making decisions that will affect the rest of your life and the life of your child. How much time will your child spend in each home? What school will your child attend?  Who will provide day care? Who will be your child’s pediatrician and dentist? Does your child need counseling during this period of transition? How will you arrange for your child to have ongoing relationships with aunts, uncles, grandparents and family friends? Many of these decisions will be based on the past history of your family and the developmental needs of your child. Organizing your child’s life around two homes requires careful thought. Yet during the transition period parents react emotionally rather than objectively. Learn what you can do to make rational decisions in the best interest of your child.

 

From the time you separate until the final parenting plan is completed, you will be struggling with the difficult task of helping your child adjust to the separation and teaching your child to live in two homes. By using your common sense and understanding the needs of children at each developmental age, you can avoid many of the pitfalls of this transition process.

 

It is a fatal error to not develop a clear, concise, complete parenting plan. Parents are often reluctant to make a detailed plan. Some parents want to remain flexible, thinking they can make arrangements as needed. Many parents want to avoid the conflict and confrontation of hammering out a fair schedule.  A vague plan or no plan at all is fertile ground for future conflict as misunderstandings occur, motives are misinterpreted, and feelings are hurt. It is not uncommon in the absence of a well-defined parenting plan for parents to experience scheduling problems. For example, some evening after school, your child may be left waiting outside the school, neither parent arriving for the pick up. A model parenting plan helps parents learn about the new boundaries of their relationship and provides consistency and reliability to your child’s life.

 

Step Two: Overcoming Emotional Obstacles

There are many obstacles that you need to conquer as you move from the conflict of divorce to the business of co-parenting. Most of these obstacles are those you generate for yourself. Most divorcing parents are unprepared for the emotional impact of divorce. You will need to manage the conflict so that your child is not overwhelmed. You will need to understand some basic principles that affect most parents: Learning to control your anger…and the anger of others. Accepting your share of the responsibility for the divorce. Learning how to get accurate information about your child’s life in the other home. Communicating parent to parent, not through your child. Assuring that your child is not caught in the middle of adult conflicts and problems. Accepting the changes in your life, and accepting the opportunity for growth and adventure.

Step Three:      Memorandum Of Agreement: Returning To Common Sense after The Battle 

 

Here are some principles that most divorcing parents know but violate:

 

Parents should not fight in front of their children.

 

Children need loving, supportive extended families.

 

When possible, children need two loving, effective parents.

 

Parents must work together to provide a positive school environment.

 

If your child needs counseling, both parents must work together to make it a positive experience.

 

Parents must not fight in public.

 

In your better moments, these principles would be readily accepted. However, as you go through the adversarial process of divorce, they are often forgotten or ignored. It is time to again consider what you must do to successfully raise a child in two homes. By openly discussing these principles, you can focus on your child’s needs, regardless of the degree of parental conflict during the transition stage.

Step Four: Learning No-Fault Communication

What subjects can you discuss with the other parent that won’t violate new boundaries? When can you call the other parent--and the other parent call you? What should you do if you have questions only the other parent can answer? How do you plan holidays, vacations and school activities? How do you keep informed about medical and dental needs?  How do you plan for your child to be involved in extra-curricular activities? Communicating effectively with the other parent is a skill you can learn.

 

By following the communication system, you will be able to avoid many of the problems co-parents face and meet the on-going needs of your child.

 

The first part of the communication system is called the Information Call. Not only does it provide a no-fault way to handle emergencies, it allows you to maintain open communications so you can be a more effective parent.

 

The second part, the Weekly Telephone Call, gives you a method to keep current as co-parents about your child’s need. You can use a twenty item agenda covering most of the areas of co-parenting responsibility.

 

The third part is the Semi-Yearly meeting. By meeting together twice a year in a formal, structured setting, you can begin to make long range plans for your child.

Step Five: Learning To Master The 20 Tasks Of Co-Parenting

Most divorcing parents are overwhelmed with the prospects of learning to cooperate with the person they have just left. Most parents believe there is an endless number of tasks to learn. If you learn the twenty essential co-parenting tasks, you will be well prepared to meet most problems that arise. For example, selecting alternative caretakers, handling school problems, meeting the challenge of keeping your child clean and clothed, and many more. Each chapter provides guidelines you can follow to meet these tasks.

 

Appendix

 

At the very back of the book are some forms to help you keep track of your child’s well-being. There are forms to facilitate your child-oriented communication, a form to help you keep track of your progress as co-parents, a co-parents’ bill of rights and, most important, your child’s bill or rights. There are scripts you can use to handle the more vexing issues of co-parenting.

You Can Make A Difference

Children of divorce can grow to be happy, successful adults. Some, however, never seem to recover. You and you alone hold the key. The research on the effects of divorce on children tells us over and over again what you must do: If you remain in conflict with the other parent, your child will suffer. If you move past the conflict with the other parent, your child will most likely thrive.

 

When Mom and Dad are told "you alone have the key", the most frequently asked question is: "I am trying to co-parent but the other parent is just making it difficult. What can I do to make the other parent shape up?" That is one of the key questions we will address. When a parent accepts responsibility for the conflict, he or she has given up the victim role and can now make changes in a positive, powerful way.

 

An Invitation:

 

This book describes ways many parents have successfully used to move past conflict to no-fault co-parenting. But of course it is not complete. You have found ways to handle some of the problems of raising a child in two homes, and are likely struggling with others. I invite you to share your problems and experiences with others. My next book, entitled, Parents Speak from Beyond the Great Divide, based on solutions to the 20 essential co-parenting tasks Shared Parenting Problems, will be based on your experiences.

 

Frank Leek, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 2468

Fair Oaks, CA 95628

Telephone 916-638-8600

Fax: 916-638-8900