Hands-down, some of the most frequently asked questions a person supporting a divorcee hears occur when the ex-spouse is a less than effective parent. Your role as an unbiased listener can provide valuable support for helping parents refocus attention back to the best interests of the child.
Start by reminding your friend that it’s natural for parents to end up on different pages; sometimes infrequently, sometimes often. Here are four steps you can recommend your friend walk through when facing the difficulties of co-parenting with a former spouse.
- Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Remind your friend that as a couple, they probably didn’t agree on issues for their children when they were married, so it’s a good idea to take issues with parenting post-break-up with a deep breath. It’s normal for two adults to see the world in two different ways.That being said, you may also want to check in with your friend to see if the issue is about parenting – or something else. Ask if the issues are really with the former partner’s parenting style – or if there are negative feelings for the ex-spouse for other reasons, perhaps because the ex-spouse now has a new significant other? Also, some things start out as a little conflict but can grow until that person and their ex-spouse aren’t on the same page anymore. At those times, it’s important for people to step back and refocus on the best interests of the child.
- Create and Adhere to a Cohesive Parenting Plan. Once your friend has committed to making the best of the situation, your friend and the ex-spouse need to look at their current parenting plan. Adhering to a plan is essential otherwise the child is liable to fall through the cracks over lack of agreement. This is especially true when the child has behavioral problems. Parents need to be united in teaching that child firm, clear rules. Learn more about creating a parenting agreement.
- Check Sources. Parents need to question, where information on the parenting skills of the ex-spouse is coming from. Is your friend witnessing their ex’s parenting skills first hand or are they getting information from their child, perhaps a teenager? If there is a problem, encourage your friend to talk to their ex to find out what is going on. This needs to be done in a proper setting without the children. (Sometimes parents have found that their children have been playing them against each other so communication with the ex-spouse is very important.) Learn more about how to help children deal with divorce.
- Involve a Mediator. Most parenting plans state that the parties have to go through some type of dispute resolution like mediation or counseling instead of just filing in Court. This is generally mandated by the current parenting plan; will usually save a lot in attorney fees and protects your friend’s sanity. If dispute resolution doesn’t work, or if the situation affects the health and well-being of the child, then he or she needs to file a Modification and have it heard in Court. Learn more about setting up visitation and how it may change over time.