Living with a chronic condition, like depression, requires you to focus on creating balance and well-being on a daily basis. For those who are separated, divorced or sharing custody of a child, the struggles of co-parenting can produce enormous stressors.
Co-parenting, sometimes called joint parenting or shared parenting, is the experience of raising children as a single parent when separation or divorce occurs. Often a difficult process, co-parenting is greatly influenced by the reciprocal interactions of each parent. So, if you're parenting in a healthy way but your Ex isn't, your children will be at risk for developmental problems. Same goes if you're being too permissive and your Ex is too stern. Co-parenting requires empathy, patience and open communication for success. Not an easy thing to achieve for couples who've encountered marital issues. However, placing the sole focus on your children can be a great way of helping to make co-parenting a positive experience. Here are some tips.
Two Ways of Problem Solving
When co-parenting, there are two problem solving techniques to keep in mind: Strategic problem-solving and Social-psychological problem solving.
Strategic problem-solving model looks just at the issues at hand. The behavioral aspects of your child's problem are highlighted as is the co-parenting trouble spots. Do not address the emotional reasons why problems are happening. As co-parents you will identify the problem and negotiate choices and solutions as objectively as possible. Strategic problem solving directs each parent to resolve conflict through a careful approach of 1) exchanging information about needs and priorities, 2) building upon shared concerns, 3) and searching for solutions. This is done without getting into yours or your Ex's emotional needs, wants and desires.
Social-psychological problem solving is a more emotional way of resolving issues. The focus here looks at your attitudes and the emotional reasons for co-parenting blind spots. While the social-psychological model, like the strategic model, assumes that parenting conflicts are bound to arise, it differs from the strategic model by focusing on the psychological factors that drive conflict and negotiation impasses. Talking with your Ex using this model can be tough, and it's okay if you never reach this way of problem solving. But if you do, remember not to be accusatory or critical. Invite your Ex to see your side with empathy, compassion and authentic concern for the children.
Go for the high notes. Each of you has valuable strengths as a parent. Remember to recognize the different traits you and your Ex have - and reinforce this awareness with your children. Speaking positively about your Ex teaches children that despite your differences, you can still appreciate positive things about your Ex. "Mommy's really good at making you feel better when you're sick. I know, I'm not as good as she is." It also directs children to see the positive qualities in his or her parent too. "Daddy's much better at organizing things than I am."
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Laumann-Billings, L. & Emery, R.E. (2000), Distress among young adults from divorced families. Journal of Family Psychology, 14:671-687.
Mayer, B.S. (2004). Beyond neutrality: Confronting the crisis in conflict resolution. San
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Mosten, F.S. (2009). Collaborative Divorce. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Dr. Deborah Serani is the author of Living with Depression" by Rowman and Littlefield.