Co-parenting among divorcing couples is becoming more popular. For many children this is a good thing. This means they get to have both parents making life-long decisions for there welfare. It means children can still have family connections with both sides of the family.
In our last post, Understanding co-parenting situations we talked about the three different models of co-parenting and what children’s ministers need to understand about the different situations.
If both parents can put aside their squabbles and think about what is best for their children, then co-parenting is a good option. If parents can keep conflict to a minimum and not inflict adult conflict on the kids then co-parenting might benefit the children. When family can be held to a high standard for all involved then co-parenting can be a viable choice.
Let’s face it– children develop attachments to both parents. That is as it should be. When a divorce happens and the parents can no longer live together the children still love both parents. They want to be with both parents. Like one little girl said, “I didn’t get a divorce!
It is when the above can’t be worked out those children in co-parenting situations will suffer. If parents want to raise children in the middle or in between their two homes, then it would be prudent to develop some rules or guidelines. Even then there will be some parents that won’t adhere to “rules” or guidelines.
I have a friend who is co-parenting two children. One is a preschooler and the other is in elementary school. Both kids dearly love their father and the divorce has been difficult. Things started out pretty good with the co-parenting. As job schedules changed and the dad began to travel more and more, co-parenting has become difficult.
On the dad’s time with the kids many times he flies the kids with him on business trips on the weekends. While it is good the dad wants to include his children, it is not always good for the kids. Having to sit in a hotel room with a strange baby sitter while dad is out entertaining late at night causes much stress on the kids. The kids complain there isn’t a lot to do in a hotel room for days at a time.
Many times when the kids come home late on Sunday night, they are exhausted. They haven’t slept well in strange hotels. They have eaten mostly junk food and it seems like they come home sick a lot. And if the elementary age child had a homework assignment it didn’t get done as he left town on Friday as soon as school was out.
Dad’s values are changing and going in the opposite direction of the moms. With a possible wedding in the dad’s future the children are even more confused and the co-parenting is becoming more difficult
None of the things the dad is doing could be considered exactly harmful or hurtful but in the long run it is hurting his children. His kids will feel the effects of this arrangement later in life. As they approach their teen years, visitation may become burdensome to the point they may not want to visit the other parent. Co-parenting in this situation is difficult at best.
What can churches do to help?
- Host a single parent class on Sundays or host Single & Parenting during the week
- Allow the single parent to draw strength from stories about single parents in the Bible.
- Tell others in the church or in the class to encourage the co-parent who attends your church.
- Text the co-parent when children are sick or the co-parent has to miss church.
- Find helpful articles and resources with tips and hints about co-parenting and about parenting alone.
- Listen to the co-parent’s stories and empathize with him or her.
- Pray without ceasing for the kids in a co-parent situation.
- Listen to the kid’s stories without making any judgments. Just listen!
In listening to the child’s stories, try to get the big picture of the child’s life and his or her frustrations. I have learned that many times the kids are acting out when they come home from one parent’s house because they are trying to deflect the frustration and anger that the parent they are with is displaying about the parent they just left.
In other words if the child can make mom upset and angry with his behavior it takes mom’s mind off daddy and how mad she is at daddy. Weird thinking I know but this is the state of confusion in which these kids live. It also shows how these little kids are trying to be peacemakers by keeping the peace any way they can.
One question that Marilyn Wedge of “Pills Are Not for Preschoolers” says to ask kids, “Are you more worried about your mommy or daddy?” For older elementary children you can rephrase this question, “So in your life, who are you more worried about? Your mom or your dad?”
While Marilyn uses this question in her therapy sessions, I have found just asking this question in a conversation with a child of divorce opens a floodgate of relief for these kids. Tell the child that you will now be the worrier and they can be a kid. Or tell them you are glad to know how they feel because now you will know how to pray for them. Then stop right then and pray with them.
What have you done to help someone who is co-parenting in an uncooperative co-parenting situation?
A version of this post appeared on divorceministry4kids.com on 6/21/13, “Do-Parenting That Hurts Kids”