Raising kids is a huge job that is made a little trickier when faced with separation and divorce. Although there are no easy answers here are my three best pieces of parenting advice. This may seem like an odd question, but how many times have you heard a flight attendant say the following?
"In case there is a loss in cabin pressure, yellow oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling compartment located above you. To secure, pull the mask towards you, secure the elastic strap to your head, and fasten it so it covers your mouth and nose. Breathe normally. Even if the bag does not inflate, please keep in mind that oxygen is flowing. Please make sure to secure your own mask before assisting others."
You hear it every single time you fly. No exceptions.
I think that getting divorced and a sudden loss of cabin pressure during flight have a lot in common. They're both scary and you need to take care of yourself first. Unless you're able to think clearly and take action when it's needed, you're not going to be able to do anyone else any good. And, believe it or not, taking care of yourself is always my first piece of parenting advice for someone going through separation or divorce. No exceptions.
Just in case you might not agree that taking care of you is mandatory for being able to take care of your kids, let's be frank about the realities of being a single parent. Regardless of the stage of your separation or divorce, when you are a single parent, parenting has an entirely different intensity to it. When your kids are with you, you get to assume the immediate roles of both mom and dad. You're now 100% responsible for your kids' education, entertainment, well-being and discipline. There's no passing off issues to your spouse with a casual "Ask your Mom" or "Ask your Dad." You're it—all the time—24/7.
Another reality of being a single parent is the need to get really comfortable with the idea that you'll have less control over the kids when they're with their other parent. Yup, that means that if their other parent decides to feed them more junk food than you'd like or let them watch movies you don't approve of or even introduce a new sweetie to the kids there might be little you can do about it.
More reality: It's unlikely that your ex will suddenly change their parenting style or capabilities. A client of mine is a great parent and was the one the kids always went to for help and support before the separation and divorce. Now that the divorce is final, my client is still the one the kids go to, but now she's frustrated by her ex's lack of parenting skills. She's admitted there was a part of her that was secretly hoping their father would suddenly become a great parent. Intellectually, she gets that he's not going to change. We've been working on her unrealistic expectations and she's making great strides in letting her secret hope go. Every step she takes toward fully accepting that the divorce won't make him a better parent, she's getting more and more energy to be an even better parent herself and to move even faster past the pain of her divorce and into her new life.
Being a single parent can be a big change from the parenting you did with your ex. Put this added responsibility on top of all the changes you're going through with just the divorce and I hope you're now in agreement with me when I give you my first piece of parenting advice: Take care of you first. No exceptions.
My second piece of parenting advice is that you need to establish an effective co-parenting base. To do this, you and your ex need to create a workable co-parenting agreement that puts the needs and welfare of the kids first.
If you're one of the lucky ones you and your ex were great parents. It was just your relationship that didn't work out. What I see for my clients in this situation is that they can often have an easier time co-parenting than others. However, if your divorce is contentious, then it may change a great parenting partnership into using the kids as weapons during the divorce proceedings and beyond.
If your parenting relationship with your kids' other parent isn’t ideal, here is some parenting advice to get a more effective co-parenting base in place.
As part of your divorce agreement, you'll most likely create a parenting plan. Ideally, you and your ex will both approach the parenting plan from what’s best for the kids and not what's best for you. Raising happy, healthy kids that can be happy, healthy, contributing adults is the goal of every parent I know—including me. If you're able to keep this goal in mind as you work with your ex and the attorneys to develop your parenting plan, you'll be taking a huge step toward helping your kids' progress to being happy, healthy, contributing adults.
The other main piece of a solid base for co-parenting is establishing workable communication rules. Even in the midst of the worst, most contentious divorce, if you establish communication rules for co-parenting you'll be effective co-parents. For instance, you might choose to text for everyday communications about the kids because talking on the phone just isn't working right now. You might save phone calls for emergency situations and have a special code word you use when you do call to indicate that it is an emergency. Keep reading...
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