Think about a marriage. How does a successful one work? Trust – of course. Honesty – that and trust are two peas in a pod. Communication – yes and that includes both listening and sharing. Anything else? The most important thing of course – respect. It is the foundation to any successful relationship. It is the same core mandate for married couples, business partners, friend, family and, to your potential surprise, separated or divorced spouses. It is the key to co-parenting.
What possibly could I be talking about? If respect was so important to a marriage and the marriage ended in a divorce, then clearly respect was lacking, right? How can I be so unreasonable to expect two separated or divorced couples to “respect” each other as part of the co-parenting? Especially in high-conflict divorce cases? I am not asking that. Rather, I ask each of you to respect the other’s role as a parent to the same children.
In other words, recognize a self-evident fact – you have children with each other and those children need both of you, whether you like each other or not. That is the heart of why co-parenting is necessary to raise healthy children and why it is what many parents lack the most.
Some examples of co-parenting “not” to do-list I have seen in my family law practice include:
1. Making significant educational, extracurricular, health or other important decisions for the children without the other parent’s input.
2. Failing to share important information about the children with the other parent. This most often occurs with educational and medical care.
3. Scheduling activities with the children during the other parent’s custodial time without the other parent’s consent.
4. Failing to give the other parent the right to watch the children during an extended period of absence, such as a weekend and instead placing the children with babysitters, family or friends.
5. Using the children as messengers between the parents.
These are five of the most common examples in divorce or paternity cases (paternity referring to non-married couples who are going through custody and/or support hearings). What is at the core of each scenario? A lack of respect – one for the other’s opinion about how to raise the children, time, love for the children and ability to communicate. Separate from the fact each of these actions or lack of action start and end with a lack of respect is the lack of realization that the persons most harmed by them are actually the children.
A lack of input by both parents means that decisions about the children’s present and future is compromised. Taking away the other parent’s time with the children means the children are deprived of the ability to achieve a balanced relationship with both parents. Using them as messengers places them directly in the middle of the relationship or marital problems and adds unnecessary stress to minds not mature enough to process it. Each one infuses in the children a negative energy between the parents. Each one wrecks co-parenting. You think children don’t notice such things? If so, you don’t give them enough credit. Children are far smarter than you think and because, unlike us, they don’t have a hundred daily adult distractions that come with providing for and maintaining a household, children immediately pick up on their parents’ actions and emotions. That is what you have trained them to do since day one – to watch and emulate you, whether you intended it or not.
Does your c0-parent engage in this conduct? Do you? Perhaps it’s time each of you took a closer look at the ones negatively affected the most.