If decades of experience working with post separation co-parenting have taught me anything, it is that children want their parents to get along. We spend SO much time, energy and money fighting about who gets how many nights, but that is really insignificant in the lives of children, compared to the enormous impact of the parental relationship.
Children typically don’t care who is “right” and who is “wrong”. Our legal system cares, but children don’t. They want to believe Mum is right and Dad is right, and when that belief is challenged it is distressing for them. Ongoing parental conflict can compromise a child’s healthy emotional development, and reducing that conflict is the most important thing separating parents can do.
Children tend to externalize their inner conflicts, and when children are distressed it will most likely be expressed through behavior. When separated parents are in conflict and struggling with a child’s behavior and/or emotions, I will tell them the most powerful thing they can do is improve their relationship with the other parent. Often this is not the answer people want to hear, but improving the relationship is truly the key to successful co-parenting and to protecting our children.
In encouraging separated parents to reach out to their ex, I like to think of that as the “door” to positive and sustainable co-parenting. At like any door, sometimes you have to knock several times before someone answers. Often, the first “reaching out” communication is met with indifference, disbelief, or even hostility. I encourage parents to keep trying. There is only one way towards positive co-parenting, and it is through that door.
The guiding principle of my practice in co-parenting is that children should not suffer because their parents separated. It is not their fault and it is not their responsibility, and they deserve to be protected and supported by both parents. So if you try to go through this door and get knocked back, please keep trying. It may not be comfortable, but it’s the door to your children’s security and they deserve the best co-parenting possible.