Many families struggle with parenting cooperatively after a divorce. Feelings of anger, depression and resentment often interfere with positive communication and cooperative parenting. To help understand what type of impact uncooperative parenting can have on the children and how parents can cooperatively parent after divorce, I have interviewed therapist Jamie Summers Stacks.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Masters of Science in Community Counseling and am a Licensed Professional Counselor. My specialty is working with families in conflict. I focus on helping families cope with life transitions and related stress. I help individuals, families and couples, including work with a variety of populations: adults, adolescents and children and have provided therapy along with trainings since 1998.”
What type of impact can uncooperative parenting have on the children and their relationship with their parents?
“When families break up it has a great impact on everyone involved. Divorce is one of the hardest things that anyone can go through and it creates a great deal of stress and uncertainty in what the future will hold for everyone. Children are especially vulnerable to the stress of divorce because they often have little experience coping with life transitions. During a divorce, life (as children know it) ceases to exist and they don’t know what to expect. When parents divorce, they are naturally in conflict with each other and this carries over to the children. Children may feel like everything is their fault and the family split is caused by something they did or did not do. Relationships with parents can be impacted in numerous ways. In an attempt to save the children from the gory details, parents often withhold information from them.
This may cause them to feel out of control and they might withdraw or act out. Children will often stop talking with one, or both parent[s] and keep their feelings inside. Some children will act out and get in trouble in an effort to try to create cohesion in the family again. On the other hand, parents may share too much information, possibly treating the child[ren] as a confidant. This is overwhelming and can potentially create role confusion. Children want to feel loved and protected by both parents. Even during a divorce a child still thinks of the family as a unit. If one parent refers negatively about the other in front of the children or if the parents fight in front of children, this can cause conflicting feelings and may create animosity for the “attacker” and defensiveness for the “attacked” parent. When a child feels that mom or dad is being mistreated they may try to “protect/defend” that parent by acting out towards, or not talking to, the other parent.”
How can a couple that is divorced parent cooperatively?
“Parents who are divorced, and work together, help to create a safe, loving situation assuring children that, although their world is different, it is still a family. When a family separates, the children want to know “how will this affect me”. They often have many questions about how their life will be different. Why is this happening? Why can’t we all live together anymore? Will I have to change schools or move away? Cooperative parenting means that parents work together for the good of their child/children despite differences between the two of them [parents]. This is accomplished by maintaining positive communication with each other. It is best if parents can speak calmly, politely, and positively to each other, the children and about parenting responsibilities. Children want their parents to be able to talk without fighting. Children are confused and embarrassed when parents argue, or ignore each other, at school, sporting events and any other circumstance where others are present. The more consistent a child’s life is the better off they are; consistency breeds order.
If parents can work together to have similar rules/structure in both homes it makes transitioning, between the two, easier for children. When parents divorce, and have joint custody, then children are often moving back and forth between Mom and Dad. It is hard enough to make a home in two locations without having completely different expectations. Inconsistent rules create confusion for children. Parents often try to make up for the divorce by over indulging their children. Over indulging children can cause children to cope by playing one parent against the other in a contest to see who can give them [children] the most. Attempting to buy a child’s affection simply creates problems.
Children should still be expected to have a structured life, with rules, despite the ongoing stress. Parents who are able to listen to the child/children and each other can maintain cooperative parenting, benefiting all involved. Children want to be able to enjoy the company of each parent without being made to feel guilty about it. Children don’t want to pass messages back and forth to parents. Children want to be able to be carefree and enjoy childhood. Children don’t want to be asked to spy on the other parent or “trash” a new person in one parent’s life. Children know when they are being used as pawns in a parental struggle, possibly
creating anger towards one or, potentially, both parents for “putting them in this
What type of professional help is available for a divorced couple that is having a difficult time parenting cooperatively?
“Parents who struggle with cooperative parenting and positive communication can seek family or individual therapy to work through problems. The therapist’s office lends a neutral location to meet and discuss questions and problems. The therapist can act as an objective party, helping to guide parents through the process. Life after divorce does exist and cooperative parenting can lead to healthier, happier children and parents! I am currently working on developing some online products and programs to help families where they are.”
Thank you Jamie for doing the interview on cooperative parenting after divorce. For more information on Jamie Summers Stacks or her work you can check out her website on www.jamiestacks.com.
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