I’ve been doing a lot of research lately to update my knowledge, as well as to enhance the required parenting classes we teach for the courts. I can report that no major changes have emerged since the last time I did this, but there are a couple of points worth reiterating that make a difference to kids:
1) Parents do not have to be friends for their kids to be okay. All of the research tells us that kids just need their parents to act respectfully and civilly for their sake – the key word being “act.”
You don’t have to feel friendly or feel respectful toward the person you despise. You just have to act to save your kids (sort of like you do when you have a difficult co-worker and want to keep your job). That means that you don’t have to include a lot of flexibility in your parenting plan, communicate frequently, or pretend to be friends. Only about 30 percent of parents can pull off cooperative co-parenting anyway. Don’t let your ex tell you, then, that you are a bad co-parent if you just want to follow the plan and communicate only when necessary. Of course, there are times when flexibility is good for kids, but those should be few and far between (a wedding, a funeral, a life event).
2) Poor individual parenting skills can hurt kids. The research tells us kids can do well if they have ONE parent who can offer stability, dependability, and consistency – and who knows how to set appropriate boundaries with kids (not too flexible, not too rigid). That means stop trying to make your co-parent a better parent. He/she is not listening to you anyway. Just focus on what
you can do to provide what your child needs in your home. If the other parent does it as well, it’s the best-case scenario for kids. But you, alone, can give your kids what they need regardless
of what the other parent says or does (barring child abuse or severe parental alienation).
Just like trying to make too many changes at once when the new year comes will likely fail (dieting, exercising, managing money, etc., etc.), I suggest co-parents take the simple approach to helping their kids this year. Just focus on these two things: (1) be a stable parent yourself, and (2) act respectful toward your ex!