To paraphrase a famous opening line, parenting is, “…the best of times, it is the hardest of times.” Even in the best circumstances, raising children provides parents with their most incredible joys and terrible fears–often at the same time. It gets tricky when a family is going through the challenges of separation and divorce.
Children learn what they live and they learn how to navigate the intricacies of relationship through watching their parents. When couples separate, they are undoing their own complex personal relationship, but it doesn’t mean that the parenting relationship has to become undone as well.
For instance, in intact families, children learn to play one parent against the other as naturally as they learn to walk. It is part of their development, as they learn to understand the complex nature of attachment and relationship and it lays the groundwork for all of their future relationships. During a divorce, this natural tendency can put the child in an inappropriate position. If the parents give in to this show of influence in order to “get back” at the other parent or prove to the child that they are the “nicer” parent, it gives the child an inappropriate amount of responsibility over the parents. Children look to their parents for guidance, but without strong parenting guidelines, they will see conflict where there once was unity. Their own development becomes fraught with the uncertainty and turmoil that is impacting their parents’ lives. During this time especially, the most important job a parent has to do is to keep the separation issues independent from the parenting issues. Children who are the innocent bystanders of a divorce have to be allowed to have their own relationship with each parent, without the influence of the other.
In a divorce or separation, “separate” is the key. Parents who can separate their role as a parent from their role as a husband or a wife will have a better time at keeping their children feeling safe and guided—and not in the middle. Parents who are navigating co-parenting for the first time often feel as if they are under a microscope – by the other parent. There are different parenting styles even within intact families. It is the best thing you can do for your child and it is the hardest thing to do for your child. But with a little help and advice now and then, it can be done; keeping your personal lives personal and your parenting lives successful.