In almost every divorce there’s a tendency to view the other parent as the enemy. Though enemy they may be, they are still the mother or father of our children. Our primary goal always is to create a sense of safety and well-being for our children. When in the divorce process with the other parent, you not only want to avoid being negative but there are some definite positive kinds of interaction that you can have that will reduce the friction and benefit your children, thus creating safety for your children in divorce.
There’s been 110 articles about parental alienation, how divorcing parents should avoid speaking badly of one another to their children. This is not a bad rule for parents in general. Let’s get real. Whether you are married, getting divorced, or divorced, it does not help our children to speak ill of one another. It does not help our children for us to fight in front of them.
What does help our children is to remember always that this is the mother or father of our children and to honor them as such. From time to time we may even know the other parent is wrong! This is the most important time to remember who they are in relationship to our children. The truth is we’re all wrong times so let’s show them the grace we’d like them to show us!
What this looks like in daily practice, is always focusing on their strengths. Even in our moments of greatest fear, weakness and anger, we will focus on their strengths. What is it that drew us to them in the first place? What are the qualities that we admired in them? We always want to reflect these back to our children. Remember, the more secure the other parent feels, the more likely that together we are creating safety for our children in divorce.
Toxic Co Parent?
In some cases, we may actually have a scary parent on the other side. Honoring that they are scary to the children is an important part of our communications. It is important to reassure our children that we are providing a safe place for them. We communicate through our actions and words that we will do nothing to stir up the hornet’s nest on the other end of our children’s living situation. We will show our children that we are always reaching out with an olive branch.
If we want to have a relationship with our children, it is vital that we always provide sanctuary for them in our home. Sanctuary from the challenges of the outside world. Possibly sanctuary from the negativity of the other parent. We do this by engaging them relationally. It is easy to be goal-oriented with our children. After all we have dreams and aspirations for them! This is the last thing in the world they really need from us most of the time. But they really want from us is for us to understand what they’re going through. What they want is supposed to model that behaviors that will help them deal with the negativity of the other parent..
Speaking “relationally” means using open-ended questions. questions. Open ending questions like what was good about school today? We also want to dig deep. In the Toyota kaizen manufacturing system when there’s a problem they use the five “whys” The premise is that the first answer to why was there breakdown is always a shallow one. By digging deeper and deeper, we are more likely to find the source of the problem. By digging deeper with open-ended questions We learn more about the thoughts feelings and interactions that relate to whatever the problem is. The more we show our children that we want to understand them the more we are creating safety for children in divorce.
When we’re talking to our children and they say “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow”, we might ask them “what is it about school that you don’t want to go there?” The first answer might be “I’m afraid of getting sick”. “You didn’t use to be so scared about getting sick, let’s bring you this on?” we respond. “Tommy says he’s going to be homeschooled for the rest of the year and that it’s really fun,” they say. We might be tempted to tell them that we don’t have time for homeschooling but instead let’s stick with the “five whys”. We ask, “Homeschooling? What could be fun about homeschooling?”. They respond “If I were homeschooled I get to stay with you more!” and we ask ” That would be awesome for me too, wouldn’t you miss your friends? ” to which they respond ” Yes but then I wouldn’t have to deal with that bully Cindy”. Now we are at the heart of it, and so we ask; ” Tell me more about Cindy being bully and you.”…
As you can see, by digging deeper and deeper you learn more and more about what’s going on with your child. The temptation here is to fix the problem. The challenge is to allow them to come up with the solution. They just want to know that you’re willing to help them get to the root of whatever is bothering them and that you hear them. Do your best to let them find the solution. If they just can ask them first if you can offer them some help. When a child is being bullied in any environment, the more we ask permission the more we empower them
If the parent on the other end is truly toxic, the chances are they are manipulating and bullying The children in some way. The temptation always is to punish the other parent. Or it take them to court and have the legal system punish them. You will definitely want to consult your attorney on what legal action you can take. Just remember that any attack on the other parent will have repercussions on the children.
Our Children are Whole and Complete
Let’s deal with what we can control which is our own relationship with the children. When there is a truly toxic parent on the other side of the equation, first we must remember that we chose to marry them. After all. our job is creating safety for our children in divorce. This child who we love is the product on both of us. We would not have this child we’re not for the other parent. Second, we must deal with our children’s sensitive nature. Part of creating a safe environment for them is honoring and respecting that they are whole and complete human beings capable of making their own decisions.
Although we are responsible for setting boundaries for our children, we avoid dictating to them whenever possible. They are experiencing enough of that on the other end. We’ll always make the boundaries or rules clear for them. We let our children know that there are consequences for crossing them and that they are making a choice when they cross them. If there are values, or principles that we want to teach our children in the course of conversation, we will ask their permission. As their parent, you may not feel you need their permission. Remember that on the other side with the other parent, in all likelihood they are being told who they are and are not, what they can and cannot do. Our communications will always be framed from the perspective that they are choosing. We will not shove our opinions down their throat but ask their permission always.
Don’t Stir It Up
If you happen to have someone on the other side who is very reactionary, easily triggered, then there’s going to be a big commitment to not stirring it up. You’re going to do this for your sake, and for the sake of the children. at all costs you’re going to avoid putting the children in the middle.
Communicate to the children that you’re reaching out to the other person so that You’re both on the same page as much as possible. Demonstrate that you are invested in your children’s well-being alone in your communications for the other person. And beware of using the children as a tool for manipulation in conversation. Make sure you understand the other persons boundaries. If they have no boundaries at least understand their triggers. Avoid their triggers at all costs.
The Olive Branch
Not only are we to avoid the temptation to engage in warfare with the other parent of our children, the healthy thing for the sake of our children is to constantly hold out the Olive Branch. Do not misunderstand, we are not surrendering here. It may be that our attorney is engaging in war for us. Our relationship with the other person will always be cordial and friendly because after all, they are the other parent and they will be in our lives forever one way or another.
This could look like weekly communication on your side about the children’s activities so that they are up to date. It could look like offer to have lunch together either alone or with the children. Holding out the Olive Branch has many manifestations. We want to find the safest way to make an offer. Our goal is to communicate that whatever personal offense we’ve had, we’re letting go of so that we can focus on the well-being of the children together. It does not matter whether the other parent takes the offer or not. The children will see our intent and be reassured that we are not stirring it up on the other end. Make sure you document your olive branch outreach as well. Documenting your communications may help your attorney in your court case.
Setting Our Own Boundaries
Often we are willing to make sacrifices when creating safety for our children in divorce. However, nobody wants to be a carpet. We all need to set our own boundaries, our own limits that make us feel safe. Remember that a boundary is a line that we create for our own safety. What a boundary is not is a weapon or tool for changing the other person. We will never change the other person!
What are the behaviors that you will not tolerate from the other person? For example, if they are yelling at you on the phone that’s probably unacceptable to you. A healthy boundary might be to let them know. ” I really want to have a conversation with you, and I don’t feel that yelling at one another is constructive, however, and if one of us starts yelling I’m going to ask to take a timeout and reconvene the call at another time”.
Setting a boundary is something we do in our own minds. Sometimes we need to announce it to the other person. If the other person is very reactionary, we may not want to notify them as they may hear it as a threat. We endeavor to never sound threatening. Again this is the mother or father of our child.