Evolution of a co-parenting relationship
There are four stages in the evolution of a relationship from a beginning romance and/or marriage towards a divorce and co-parenting relationship. The first is the stage of “intimacy.” This is when you get together, are in love, and the world looks fine. The second stage may best be termed “negative intensity.” This is when the relationship is falling apart and separation and divorce are in the works. The third is the stage of “building a structured agreement” for how to continue raising the children in the context of separation or divorce. In this stage, the parents must form a business-like relationship and clarify the time-scheduling plan for the children and the rules of conduct for how the parents agree to conduct themselves after separation and divorce.
The last is the stage of “emotional disengagement.” It is in this stage that you reassess and establish a post-divorce relationship with each other, which can range from Perfect Pals to Dissolved Duos. Hopefully you will end up, minimally, as Cooperative Colleagues, being courteous and civil in your interactions with one another. Unfortunately, many divorcing parents try to move directly from stage two to stage four without going through stage three. Bypassing stage three (building a structured agreement) does not allow for the necessary tasks of structuring a co-parenting agreement that prevents the children from being used as pawns between the parents as they continue to act on their negative feelings towards one another. This, unfairly, puts further stress on the child, and it should be avoided.
Divorce and separation do not automatically result in the parents realizing that now they must work together differently from how they did when they were together. Do not expect miracles. Your former partner is not going to wake up all of a sudden and say, “Oh gee, now I understand what s/he wanted. I will act appropriately.” A parenting plan is a map. It is a map of how the two parents will continue to raise their child. However, just as a road map does not teach you HOW to drive the car safely on the road, but merely shows you the territory, the parenting map simply describes in detail the territory of co-parenting. You are solely responsible for your own behaviour in following this map. The more communication and parenting skills you pick up along the way, the safer the journey will be for your children.
Developing understanding and empathy for the other parent are essential in using the map effectively. You can still have accidents, despite the map that you create. Individual counselling, or some other guided experience in self-awareness can be a benefit to you in relating to your former partner. Oftentimes, individual counselling is very effective in figuring out your own boundaries. If both individuals are willing, family therapy counselling aimed at learning communication skills can be very helpful for untangling the old emotional hooks and learning effective ways to co-parent, for your child’s sake.
IMAGINING THE FUTURE
Imagine that you are attending your child’s twenty-fifth birthday, or wedding. Will your child be able to look at the two of you on this day of celebration and say the following? “I would like to honour my Mom and Dad for their love of me. They were able to navigate through a difficult situation and protect me from the storm. I love you both for showing me how to be a human being.” Or, will your child look out and not see one or either of you there, because of your unresolved anger towards each other?
A child has the right to love both parents. Give your child that as a gift. It will be profoundly appreciated and everlasting.