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Responsible Divorce mindful vs mindless

Relationship with the non-custodial parent: Help children keep both parents

By Thalia Ferenc

Noncustodial parents certainly need to make their own efforts to maintain an active and involved relationship with the children, but custodial parents must do their part to support that process. Why bother? Because it’s in your children’s best interests to have two parents, of course!

Some things a custodial parent might do to help are:

- Separate your feelings about the other parent from your behavior toward them. Some authorities on divorce suggest thinking of your new relationship with your ex-spouse as similar to a business relationship. We don't have to like our co-workers or bosses or customers, but if we want to succeed in business, we must be cordial and cooperative with them.

You may feel anger, disgust, pain, ambivalence, sadness, and many other emotions when you think of your ex-spouse. You are entitled to your feelings and you must complete the grieving process that divorce entails. Never the less, your relationship with your ex-spouse is different from your relationship with your children's other parent. Together, your "business" is to raise your child in the best way possible. These two roles must be transacted in different gears to be successful.

- Don't interfere with the other parent's style of parenting. Vicki Lansky, in her Divorce Book for Parents, says, "Women are often more flexible in accepting a variety of standards of day care for their children than they are in accepting anything less than the way they themselves would parent from an ex-husband. Children can be cared for by less than 'adequate' noncustodial fathers and flourish because the father cares about the kids. Caring counts for more than the mechanics of the job."

- Encourage frequent contact between the kids and the other parent through phone calls and email. Don't use calls from the other parent as occasions for arguing or to discuss money.

- Discuss specific child-rearing problems you're having with each other. Often the other parent is having the same problem and a joint strategy to address the behavior will be more successful.

- Make extra copies of photos so the kids can share them with their other parent or relatives.

- NEVER schedule after school or weekend activities for the children without first discussing it with the parent whose time may be affected.

- Encourage your ex to attend school conferences with you. Your children will see your united front on their academic responsibilities and you can plan together to address any problems.

Thalia Ferenc, MSW, MA, CSW is a psychotherapist in Kentwood, MI. She is a Diplomate of Clinical Forensic Counseling and works on parenting plans and coordination, as well as child custody evaluations. See website.

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