Your Child and Co-Parenting

Children Overwhelmed by the Schedule

upset little boyNo matter what your schedule is and no matter how perfect it may seem to you, you need to observe your child to see how she is handling it. A schedule that seems balanced to the parents can be overwhelming to the child. Some kids simply can't handle a lot of transfers -- going back and forth between houses frequently. These are kids who need stability. For them, longer stretches at each house may be the answer.

There are also kids who have a very hard time with a schedule that limits time with the non-residential parent. Waiting two weeks to see that parent can be really hard for a child who needs constant contact. If your child seems to be struggling with the schedule, it makes sense to consider changing it if you've given it a good try and your child is not adjusting as well as you hoped.

Kids Taking Sides

Another common problem is children who take sides. Often it may seem like your child is taking your side, when in actuality, he is going to the other parent's house and doing the opposite -- seemingly taking that parent's side as well. Kids want to please the parent they are with, so it's important not to read too much into things your child says to you.

There are kids who end up firmly planted on one side of the family battle lines. Some boys feel very resentful of their fathers for leaving and feel a need to protect their mothers. Girls can demonstrate a lot of anger towards their mothers as well. While there are some gender links to this, any child can end up angry at either parent. You and your ex have to make it clear that the schedule continues. You must absolutely support each other and tell your child that time with that parent is essential and not negotiable. If you don't play into the game, it may just go away.

Some kids maintain festering resentment against a parent no matter what. These are situations when a good child or family therapist can help a lot. Don't assume you should just give up -- therapy can be very helpful for everyone.

Manipulation by Your Child

All kids are masters of manipulation, however children of divorce may have the opportunity to perfect this behavior, simply because it is harder to catch them at it sometimes. Your child may have his own agenda -- reuniting the parents, getting one parent in trouble with the other, changing the schedule to be with the parent who is more lax on discipline, and so on. To avoid this kind of manipulation, it's important to maintain open communication with the other parent. Lots of families get into trouble when the parents rely on what the child says instead of what the other parent says. This means you and your ex have to develop a level of trust that allows you to talk to each other and believe each other when it comes to parenting.

Successful co-parenting is a team effort. The parents must be the team leaders who work together to keep the children on board with the process.

Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:

  • "The Divorce Organizer & Planner"
  • "The Complete Divorce Handbook: A Practical Guide"
  • "How to Parent with Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best Interest"
  • "No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation"

Learn more about Brette on her web site.

Copyright © Brette McWhorter Sember. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.