If you or parents you know who have divorced are not a tightly unified parenting team, you need to read this blog. While divorce can have devastating effects on children, divorce + conflicting parenting styles = future disaster.
By the way, even non-divorced parents can improve their parenting by reviewing the list below to assess the “parenting vital signs” indicating to what degree a parenting team is unified!
It is one thing for children to experience the hardships of their parents getting divorced. But a pervasive mistake divorced parents make is they forget they must work as a unified parenting team if they hope to raise their children to be well adjusted adults who have a work ethic, values, and a healthy sense of how relationships work.
No matter how conflictual the divorce process was, and no matter how negative the feelings are between the adults, they MUST work hard to develop a set of common parenting groundrules. If they don’t, their child likely will NEVER develop a stable set of values and beliefs about much of anything. Rarely does any other adult make a behavioral and emotional “imprint” as deep as the parent will on any particular child.
There is NOTHING that can replace the importance of a unified parenting team. Think of it this way: how hard would it be if you have two supervisors giving you different rules, guidance, and expectations. Well, you would not stay with that job very long, or you would give up caring about what either says. And you are an adult. Think about how distressing that would be for a child! See my point?
No matter how much divorced parents love their kids, how much they give them, how much therapy the kid receives, if a common set of groundrules are not there, that child’s chances of having a strong enough “moral rudder” to navigate the rough seas life are minimal to nil.
What if the divorced parents cannot agree on the issues outlined below??? Be decisive, put your kids first, and find a child psychologist who is tough and seasoned enough to reign in both of you, who will keep your egos and emotional issues in check, and will not be distracted from the goal of a common set of groundrules. Here in Tucson, as a counselor and child and parent psychologist, I have worked with many familiaes where the divorced parents make the mature decisions to move beyond their anger and put their child first. Even ones who have deep anger toward each other.
If you want a more precise way of assessing your parenting “vital signs”, rate your parenting against the below criteria. ALL must be met if you want to minimize the chances your child’s character is not significantly impaired as they enter their adult life:
There MUST be agreement on…
-what behaviors are ok, and what behaviors are not ok and must receive a consequence. You should even agree on the consequences. For example, make sure the consequence for lying is similar at both households. If you must, have a shared list of certain misbehaviors that occur, and agree on the consequence. This list will need to be updated on a weekly or monthly basis. The more similarity there is in the parental approach, the quicker your child will stop that misbehavior.
-You must agree on the importance of doing chores at both households and have similar chores and/or levels of responsibility at each home.
-Agree on the volume and cost of material things given to them at birthdays and holidays. Make the amounts commensurate. Otherwise, one parent becomes the bad parent and/or allows a parent to try to “outdo” the other parent thereby sneakily trying to gain favor. Then the gift war begins, and you both spoil the child, and they grow up to be entitled and then unsuccessful.
-Agree that you will not talk about the other parent to your child, no matter how upset you are. Doing that only creates a toxic environment and will teach your child that in normal relationships people talk about each other to third parties. This is called “triangulation”, and is toxic. Real relationships are where two people communicate with each other DIRECTLY and HONESTLY.
-Agree you all will not yell at each other, or behave poorly toward each other even when you all are meeting up for family events. Enough said. If you cannot do this, you two need to work with a psychologist to iron out the wrinkles. If you do not, how much of a chance does your child have to use good judgement when they are dating? They will fall into that imprint of choosing problematic partners and then real problems begin.
-Agree on the most important values you want your child to learn. I recently had two parents each write-up the list of the top ten values they wanted their child to internalize. I then reviewed this with the child, and the child felt relieved to know his parents has the maturity to do this. You may be divorced, but do you not still share a set of key values?
-Agree on the story behind the divorce. You would not believe how many children I work with and I ask them, “So, why did your parents get divorced?”, and they say “Don’t know”.
This leaves open the chance that the child will “fill in the blanks” and they often do by coming to the belief that they were the reason for the divorce. YOU MUST AGREE on not just the content (the why of the divorce) but also be able to TOGETHER talk with your child about the divorce. One of the best guides to how to talk with children about divorce is available at this link: http://www.sc.pima.gov/SC_Web/portals/0/conciliation/cc0134.pdf
In the end, there are two kinds of divorced families I counsel: those that put their kids first by remaining a parenting team (no matter how much they dislike each other) and those that put their own petty battles above all else. I describe the latter group as having and their “eyes are wide shut” to the life of pain that is approaching.
It is one thing to get divorced, it is quite another to divorce yourself from the moral duty you have to remain a unified parenting front. Have courage and do the right thing! Your decision will have far reaching effects. You get to decide whether they will be positive or disastrous effects.
Great educational information is available from the Conciliatiuon Court here in Pima County, Arizone: http://www.sc.pima.gov/?tabid=108