You are no doubt receiving lots of well-intended advice about how to protect your children from your divorce. What and whom do you believe? If your relationship with your ex-spouse is contentious, you yourself may believe and fear that parenting in separate households will always be a struggle.
But the truth is, you don’t have to like or even talk to your ex-spouse in order to parent apart in a successful and healthy way. You do have to honor your children’s right to love both parents. And you do have to communicate with the other parent in a timely and respectful way (technology helps make this possible).
Helpful self-talk: “I will honor the love I have for my children more than my anger, hurt, or disappointment.”
Let’s explore what else is possible by deconstructing some popular myths.
Divorcing Parent Myth #1: An Angry Ex Will Be An Angry Parent
Fact: A thoughtful parenting plan holds you to a higher moral authority—your child(ren).
You wonder, how will we parent our children after the divorce if we can’t even get along now?
The reality is, your marriage is over. You are no longer spouses. What were spousal differences technically don’t exist anymore. You are two separate individuals who now share a different common identify: you are parents.
And most parents agree on a lot of things about their kids. For starters, when you focus on your kids, you aren’t angry. You are proud. You are concerned. You are thoughtful. When you put your pride, your concern and your thoughts on paper, you create the foundation of a parenting plan that will guide you to do right by your kids.
Once you have an agreement to guide you, you can pretty much operate like executives carrying out a business plan in order to maximize the company’s success. Your asset is your child(ren). Your dedication to protecting that asset is your insurance against “angry choices.” (If civil conversation is out of the question, agree to text or email each other, and contact each other only about matters directly pertaining to the children.) The terms of your agreement are written by you, for your children. You will abide by them because you are both committed to raising healthy children who will become healthy adults. Anything less and you answer to them.
"Children did not create, nor can they fix the problems in your marriage. With divorce comes an end to those problems, and thus the beginning of peaceful rebuilding."
Divorcing Parent Myth #2: A parenting plan will “tell me how to parent.”
Fact: A parenting plan does not dictate your parenting style.
You don’t have to parent the same way. To the contrary, one of the accidental benefits of divorce is that you get to be your “best you” when it comes to raising your child(ren). Children benefit from learning that there’s more than one right way to do things; they become better problem solvers and more flexible, tolerant people.
After parents agree that each parent is a good parent in his or her own way, you are each free to make your own day-to-day decisions about your child(ren)’s welfare. As long as your actions match the intent of your plan and serve your child(ren)’s best interests, don’t be constrained!
Unleash your creativity and let your personality shine through. Children find themselves reflected in you.
I’ve found that fathers in particular report new-found opportunities to parent effectively and creatively when they do not have to implicitly “default” to a mother’s ways of doing things. Roles during the course of marriage do not define what parents will do and how well they will do it after divorce.
Divorcing Parent Myth #3: If we create a parenting schedule, we have to abide by it to the letter. It could prevent me from seeing or talking to my kids.
Fact: A parenting schedule is designed to change over time.
A parenting schedule guarantees, at the minimum, regular and predictable time spent with both parents. The schedule and provisions are designed to replace the “scary unknown” with the comfort and security of knowing what to expect. We all need to know what’s happening, when and how.
But the parenting plan is a springboard; a starting place, meant to grow and change as your children grow and change, and as your personal circumstances change. It is designed to be flexible—readily modifiable in order to meet your children’s best interests—not to constrain parental involvement. Parents write their own plans. They can be broad or specific. Many parents choose to include provisions about allowing flexible, or discretionary time. The plan is yours--as parents, you may revise it in small or big ways whenever and however you want, as long as you mutually agree that such change suits your child(ren).
You are about to march to the beat of a different drummer. Think of the parenting plan as your family choreography.