Shared parenting is pretty much the expectation for divorcing parents in the U.S. and for most parents that inevitably means a degree of disagreement. It’s especially hard when your ex is not the parent you want them to be.
My current guest, Liv left her marriage while she was pregnant with her second child. Shared parenting time with an infant comes with its own set of challenges but it’s not impossible and despite the differences between her and her ex, she wanted him to spend time with their daughter. Here’s Liv:
As to my daughter’s care, for the first little bit, he kind of bonded with her a little, not a lot. I was breast-feeding and it was difficult for him to come in and take her for any extended period of time.
I think at some point he just kind of gave up on that idea. For the first two years he didn’t have an overnight at all with her even though, I only breast fed for only six months. It eventually came to a point where I had to force him to get her a bed so that he could take her overnight otherwise I think, even today, he probably wouldn’t have taken her.
I try to support and encourage the relationship because I think it’s important for them to have a relationship. He has a lot of issues but he’s still their father and they have a right to love him and they have a right to have a relationship with him and I struggle with it.
I try not to color their judgment of him with my opinion. He can be the most difficult person to deal with but I try to give them constructive information when they’re having trouble. I try not to denigrate their dad. I try to give positive affirmation. “Your dad still loves you” and say, “Sometimes when we deal with people like this or sometimes when we’re dealing with problems like this, this is what happens and maybe we should think about doing it this way, or maybe we should think about doing it this way.”
So far at least they seem to be interested in continuing the relationship and as long as they’re feeling that way, I’m not going to stand in their way.
The Divorce Coach Says
Kudos to Liv for her mature approach. Parenting experts do generally agree that it’s important for a child to have a relationship with both parents and that works best when neither parent is criticizing the relationship their child has with their other parent.
Now, I don’t think that means that you can’t voice dissatisfaction when your child comes home to you and hasn’t been washed, fed, cared for in the same way as you would – I think when you can voice your disagreement in a constructive way you’re teaching your child important skills for handling conflict, but that’s another subject. I think when you do voice dissatisfaction it needs to be voiced in terms of the differences between you and your ex, why it’s a struggle for you, rather than”I’m right, he’s wrong and he needs to change.” It also needs to be done in way that doesn’t make your child feel caught in the middle and responsible for you being upset. Yes, that’s a fine line to walk.
Over time your child may come to appreciate both approaches – they might find your ex’s relaxed approach to bedtime a refreshing change from your scheduled routine. They may also come to prefer one approach over the other.
If they prefer your style, then you can coach them in voicing their preferences to their other parent. If they prefer your ex’s style over yours then try truly listening to them and see if you are able to accommodate their wishes. If you don’t feel you can change then you can explain your rationale to your child – this is not a “because I said so” conversation but rather a discussion so your child will understand why you’re not able to change and at least feel that their voice has been heard.
The key message here which Liv’s story reinforces is there is no perfect parent and there is no one way parenting. Barring the potential for real harm to your child you’ll need to accept that your ex’s style of parenting is simply different from yours.
The transition from parenting as a couple to being the lone adult responsible for your kids while their in your care can be intimidating especially if your ex was the primary caregiver. Taking a parenting skills class such as those offered by Love and Logic can be a great help.
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