Children can become a point of contention and disagreement in even the most amicable of divorces. As a communications coach, I see these fights and wonder how two people who say they want the best for their children can have such vastly different ideas about what that “best” looks like. Co-parenting is hard. Every divorce is unique, but there are some common mistakes that I see parents make over and over. Can you catch yourself before you walk down the wrong path?
Mistake # 1: Treating your child as a weapon
Divorce is fraught with emotion, and there are times when parents with the best of intentions can use the child as a means of getting back at their partners. Some turn overly argumentative when the other parent requests a change in overnight stay plans. Others share emotional details of the divorce with the child to turn him or her against the other parent. The end goal, intentional or not, is to hurt the other parent. What most don’t realize is that the process hurts the child just as much.
Mistake # 2: Turning your child into a go-between
If divorcing couples were great at communicating through frustration, anger and disappointment, they would probably remain married. Unfortunately, old dysfunctional communication patterns persist through the divorce process. That includes turning children into messengers. I understand that there are times during the divorce when parents want nothing to do with each other. However, that is not a reason to put your child in the middle.
Mistake # 3: Not communicating with the other parent
Shut-down is a common side effect of participating in difficult discussions that don’t always go your way. Some of my clients experience it as an overwhelming desire to hole up and never speak to the other parent again. In reality, the only way to maintain a constructive co-parenting arrangement is to keep talking. There will be schedules to coordinate, medical appointment to make, sports and homework and shared expenses. Parents who stop talking to each other during the divorce have a difficult time picking it back up after the divorce is over.
How can you avoid these co-parenting mistakes?
First of all, know your triggers. It might be money, late arrival for pick-up or a disagreement over approach to discipline. Being aware about what sets you off can go a long ways towards being able to take a deep breath and manage your response.
Next, recruit a support team that will help you manage tough conversations and keep you accountable. Very few people are trained in keeping a calm mind and a focus on goals when discussions turn heated, so consider working with a communications or divorce coach to get you through this.
Finally, remember that no matter what you do, divorce will affect your kids. There are certain aspects of the divorce that parents cannot control. However, it is wise to take control where you can. It is up to you to manage the degree to which your separation hurts your children. A team of professionally trained divorce specialists can help. If you would like to explore what a collaborative divorce team can do for your family, reach out to Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance. We are here to help you manage difficult conversations and create the foundation for what’s next for you and your children.
Here’s a conversation many Boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964) never thought they would have: sitting down over glasses of wine and milk with their grandkids to explain that Grandma and Grandpa won’t be living together any more. “But who will get the toys?” might be the next question from the curious little ones.
In a way, that is what any client facing grey divorce wants to know. Except in their case, the “toys” are a lifetime’s worth of accumulated assets and shared possessions. Untangling them takes experience, expertise and patience.
There are three sets of special circumstances in a grey divorce: money, health insurance and family. Although those factors are present when a couple of any age goes through a divorce, their intensity and impact shift as a couple matures.
An older couple would have typically accumulated more assets than a couple in their thirties. Boomers must consider real estate, pensions, and 401k savings. They must also face the reality that a divorce means a hit to their joint financial situation late in life with fewer working years to patch up the damage.
Health insurance is critical because as people age they tend to have more medical issues. The goal for any “grey divorce” client that I work with is “not a single day without medical coverage”.
Late-in-life divorce sends aftershocks through the extended family, affecting kids, grandkids, in-laws and family friends. It is critical to manage communications, set boundaries and focus on the relationships you want to nurture through this difficult time. After all, you will be seeing each other at graduations, weddings, funerals, and family holidays for years to come after the divorce papers are signed.
Because each of the three factors increases in importance as the couple ages, I have found that collaborative divorce can offer a path for managing the separation without burning the bridges and destroying the financial foundation that the couple has built over the years. A collaborative process offers an alternative with greater privacy, more control over the final outcomes and an opportunity to retain a civil relationship. For couples facing grey divorce, those factors matter. Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance is there to help you choose the right professionals to support you though the process.