Conflictual coparenting is under an illusion

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Conflictual coparenting acts like it is a form of competition but that is an illusion. High levels of conflict has no winners, only losers! Parents fight to one up each other or get revenge for past hurts and this includes the children.

Most mediators, myself included, want parents to put the “best interests of the child” first but this is difficult for parents to do when consumed by anger and resentments. The costs are high, and not just financially with on-going court costs. The emotional costs are high for everyone. Research is clear that children who go through long-term, conflictual divorce, are negatively impacted. There is the risk that children will have severe mental health issues into adulthood.

The legal definition of the “best interests of the child” is about who the child belongs to…the psychological definition of the “best interests of the child” is who belongs to the child. There is a big difference between these two definitions but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive of each other. Setting boundaries, using strength-based language, and keeping the needs of the child paramount will help a true cooperative parenting process.

The best way for parents to reduce conflict is to learn to manage themselves. Keeping the focus on personal healing and not on how the other parent should act or be. Managing ourselves is the only guarantee that we can have of making the coparenting relationship healthy.

Get more support and help with your coparenting conflict with a session with Ron Huxley today.

Co-Parenting Isn’t Working? Try Parallel Parenting.

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Many divorced parents are frustrated about their co-parenting arrangements. No matter what they try to do to work things with their ex, all of their efforts end up in conflict. Co-parenting feels more like game where there are no winners.

In these situations, the best advice is “no contact is no conflict”. If it wasn’t for the shared children they would have no contact and then there would be no problem but since that isn’t the case how do you co-parent with no contact? The answer is Parallel Parenting!

The situation reminds me of small children who are learning to share. Before they develop the skills to play cooperatively, they engage in parallel play. Both types of play look alike but when you watch more closely you realize that they are in the same room, with similar toys, playing next to one another but they are not really playing together. They are quite disengaged. Eventually, development will help create the skills needed for cooperative play. In the case of high-conflict divorce, parents may have to let go of the more mature cooperative parenting and shift to parallel parenting.

Parallel parenting purposefully disengages from the conflictual partner and concentrates on connection with the child. It may involve one parent focusing on dealing with the child’s school and the other on their soccer games. While both parents need to agree on major decisions, they will differ on daily logistics about bedtime routines, acceptable television watching, choice of baby sisters, and church attendance.¬†When the daily heat can be turned down between parents, it makes the bigger decisions easier to navigate.

Parallel parenting protects the children. Research clearly demonstrates that high-conflict divorce results in higher rates of behavioral disturbances and mental illness later in life. More commonly, when a child tries to have a positive relationship with both parents who do not have a positive relationship with each other, they experience a “loyalty bind.” When the child is with parent A, he misses parent B. The child might even feel that he is being disloyal to parent B when he is with parent A and vice versa. This is easily intensified by parents who talk negatively about the other parent in front of the child. It can also occur when one parent acts like a victim causing the child to worry about them. Another way is leaning on your child for moral support and treating the child like the co-parent instead of a child.

It is a delicate balance to parallel parent and break down loyalty binds. A parents natural inclination is to protect their child and if they believe the other parent is harmful then…

The truth is that both parents are important to the child. To really protect them and find some sanity in the relationship, try using alternative methods to communication than face-to-face, like email or a notebook. Keep the wording factual about the child’s health, sleeping patterns, school events, weekend schedules, medical care, etc. Request separate school notices or records. Avoid showing up at the same events without prior knowledge. When you do end up at the same event, make a huge effort to demonstrate working together. You might actually find you can do it all the time!

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