Tag Archives: how to better co-parent

Shut Your Mouth!

How many of you out there are still fighting daily or weekly with your exes? How many of you are insanely frustrated over late or missing child support payments, or looming court dates, or missed visitations—among the myriad of abusive scenarios that some divorced parents face when one parent puts ego and/or selfish agendas above children’s needs? I’m sure many of you may be nodding your heads about now. But, sadly, even if your ex is a convict or a sociopath who deserted you and your children and doesn’t visit with the kids or pay child support—YOU (yes, even you my devoted single mommy friends)—may be accidentally causing more emotional harm to your children, say experts.

What?? (Insert record rip sound now.)

As hard as it is to believe, single parents are guilty of consistently doing one thing wrong. There are plenty of things divorced parents stumble on and I interviewed a UCLA expert earlier this year who helped define “The Top 5 Mistakes Divorcing Parents Make”. Going through a divorce is insanely painful and no one is expected to handle it perfectly. But experts say if there is one thing you need to remember for your children’s sake, it’s this: SHUT  YOUR MOUTH.

Think about it. We are ALL guilty of saying disagreeable things about our exes at some point (even if it’s just reporting the truth). Some single parents have certainly lived through their share of horror stories. And even if you think you are vigilant about not talking about your ex in front of the children—be honest—it slips sometimes doesn’t it? And these slips usually happen during the most stressful times and can be reactions that we later regret. For example, imagine this scenario:

You are at home with your children waiting for the ex to pick them up for a scheduled weekend visit. You did laundry, you packed their bags, you got them hair cuts the day before and you even carefully picked out their favorite books and toys and DVDs for the visit. The kids are excited and you’re hiding your fears about the weekend—especially if your ex drinks too much or has a new girlfriend or if he takes them to inappropriate venues, like bars. You keep yourself busy in the kitchen while the clock ticks. One hour after he is supposed to arrive, the kids get anxious and keep asking, “Where IS he?” in exasperated tones. You text the ex. He doesn’t reply. Finally, two hours after he is supposed to pick them up, he calls.

“Sorry! I got held up at the office and my boss wants me to fly out tomorrow on business. Can’t get them this weekend.” You are infuriated and before you can stop yourself you scream in response: “What the hell? You’re doing this again?You haven’t seen them in three months! This is NOT OK!”

Your heart is thumping so loud in your chest you can barely hear anything else, until a sob, from the corner of the room stills you. You look up and your six-year-old has a tear sliding down her little face.

Yes, this is your ex’s fault. No, you shouldn’t cover for him. But you don’t want to have fights in front of the kids either, explains Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., an award-winning author and family and marriage therapist.

Coleman, who I interviewed this month, says parents need to remember that they are pouring salt on their children’s wounds when they fight in front of the children or talk poorly about the ex in front of them. The better way to handle the outlined scenario is to hold in your anger and respond calmly to your ex: ‘That’s too bad. The kids were really looking forward to it. I’m handing the phone to them so you can explain, ok?’ Allowing him to talk with the kids, and likely promise to make it up to them later, is a better solution than yelling and putting their father down in front of the kids.

If the children cry after they hang up, Coleman warns against adding more drama and hurt to the situation.

“You then don’t want to say something like, ‘Your father always does this kind of thing at the last minute! It’s unforgivable!’ Instead, you want to just give them comfort, by saying something like, ‘You’re really sad aren’t you? I’m so sorry that you’re hurt.’ This lets your children know that you are there for them without adding more pain,” Coleman explains.

If you’ve experienced a similar situation to this, than I don’t need to tell you about the flash of anger that sparks and the mixed feelings that emerge about wanting to protect your kids, but also being angry about your own inconvenience. It may have been months since you’ve had a proper break or a morning to sleep in. With that said, experts say it’s critical to try to hide your disappointment and anger as your children will be highly sensitive and bruised after their father stands them up. They don’t need to feel like a bourdon to you, as well. It’s so tempting to call a friend the minute the kids settle down after such an experience. How many of us are guilty of calling a girlfriend to vent after such a scenario? What if you made plans for that evening and now they are blown? You’re still better off texting your friend to cancel. The last thing you want to do is grab a glass of wine and call a girlfriend lamenting about how you now can’t go out, and what a jerk your ex is. Your children, even if planted in front of a TV show, have amazing listening abilities. They want to know what is going on and they likely will hear your conversation, or the tone of your conversation at the very least.

I know it isn’t fair. I know that if your ex repeatedly lets you and your children down, you need to vent. But this is our test in life. (I’m right there with you.) In times like this, try to take a deep breath, and dig deep for grace. Remember that you can email or call a friend once the children are asleep—or that you can go online and chat with other single moms in support groups, such as AloneTogether. It’s so important to have the support you need—but there is a time and a place for everything. I don’t know why we’re in the situation we are in. But I’ve decided that I no longer care about figuring out why. It’s hard to let go of that, but it serves very little purpose. If you can remember anything from this story, I hope it’s this:

“Children learn to love themselves by being able to love their parents,” Coleman says.

They can’t feel free to love their father (or mother) if either parent consistently puts the other down. Sure, your ex may not be the parent you want him (or her) to be. But you can be the parent your children can model. You can be the example for them. And they can learn to love themselves by watching you.

A New Species: The Rare “Dadzilla”

I had so much fun writing a June/July cover article, “Is Your Dude a Dadzilla?” for FitPregnancy magazine. I can’t provide a link to it, as it’s only available in print on newsstands, currently. I’ve been freelance writing for Fit Pregnancy magazine for more than 10 years now, as I pitched my first article when pregnant with my first child. Back then, I was writing fast and furious about business and careers for many magazines and newspapers and could barely find time to breathe, let alone research about pregnancy. I decided in my 5th month to start researching and pitching pregnancy topics that I was suddenly, very, concerned about. I met a wonderful FitPregnancy editor who patiently read all of my pitches and, encouraged me to keep researching topics and sending more, until she finally gave me an assignment. Little did she know, through all the research I did for her, she helped me to get ready for birth and parenthood!

I’m really excited about my latest article because it is so unique. In the 10 years that I’ve been writing about pregnancy and parenting, I have never written an article that delved into the topic of “Dadzillas.” In fact, I’d never heard of such a thing: a dad who is TOO involved? The idea actually made me laugh as I hadn’t encountered such a being in my world. But what I learned, as I spoke with expectant parents and experts across the country, is that overly involved dads may really just be dads with a need for control.

Ah, now that’s something that many of single mom friends might be able to relate to: power struggles with the ex over control. And I’d venture to guess that the control issues may have had their burgeoning beginnings during the early days of marriage and even in pregnancy. (That’s just a hunch.)

For the article, I interviewed several expectant moms who shared stories of their controlling husbands. Some were trying to monitor every morsel of food their wives ate—refusing to cater to their partner’s junk food or ice cream cravings and reminding them that they shouldn’t gain too much weight during pregnancy. Others were reading everything they could about birth and insisting their wives not have an epidural or pain medication during delivery. The story provides expert advice on how best to reign these type of men in—while also appreciating and acknowledging their efforts. Because, at the end of the day, everyone wants an involved dad for their children, right?

While this story may not be extremely helpful for my main audience of single moms, upon re-reading it, I found kernels of wisdom that may apply when relating to any controlling parent. I had a particularly insightful interview with Will Courtenay, Ph.D., a psychotherapist specializing in men’s issues in Oakland, Calif. and author of best selling book: Dying to Be Men. He explained that anxiety and loss of control can make men “spring into action.” Their tendencies to want to do something, or fix things immediately, can often mean that they do rash things that can seem callous. (Like the man who reminds a 7 month pregnant woman that she doesn’t want to gain too much weight…) Unless your ex is completely sociopathic, I think there’s a good chance that the advice from our experts can also help you better co-parent. For instance, all experts interviewed say men need to feel included, appreciated and listened to. At the same token, you may want to channel their energies with lists of things to do to help, but you also always need to stand your ground when things go awry.

I’m mulling over this advice and think the best one for many of my separated mommies with young children is to “wait before responding.” This advice is great for any couple: whether separated, divorced and co-parenting, or together. Think about it. If your partner or ex suggests something that you’re not particularly excited about, if you get defensive, yell, or disregard him, he’s likely to get angry and be less likely to suggest anything in the future, or become less involved with the kids. But if you tell him you heard him, but just need a day or two to think it over, and then make an appointment to talk about it later—it can defuse the moment and give you both time to digest the information, cool down, and be respectful.

There is so much more great advice in this article. I love when my work adds so much to my life. I hope you get a chance to pick up this issue, (now in grocery aisles and newsstands) that also has fabulous farmer’s market recipes and advice on how to lose the dreaded and lingering post-birth jelly belly.

Have a great day everyone!

Laura x