Children need to know and be cared for by both parents, if at all possible. Children want to love and respect each of their parents. Understanding and applying this principle will do more to help your child facilitate a healthy adjustment to your divorce than anything else you can do. You can probably think of a dozen reasons why your former spouse does not deserve to be respected and liked. The less you push this view on your child, however, the better able he or she will be to form an independent evaluation of the other parent. If your former spouse really has despicable characteristics, your child will eventually learn about them firsthand and therefore will be less likely to blame you for them.
To have a successful co-parenting relationship, one that is healthy for the children, each parent must allow the other freedom to parent in his or her own way. You should interfere or raise objection to what the other parent is doing only if your child’s physical or emotional well-being is threatened. If your child is being left alone for long periods, abused in some way, or exposed to sex, drugs, or alcohol in a totally inappropriate way, then deal with that specific situation legally, under the provisions of the divorce decree. Otherwise, you must look the other way while your child is with your former spouse and trust that your values will be transmitted to your child through your words and actions while you are together.
You and your former partner will both have to make adjustments to accommodate your separation, and so will your children. Being from a divorced family is not like being from an intact family. For instance, it is important for all parties to recognize and accept their responsibility for communicating their own needs and desires to each other. Learning to express his or her feelings, ideas, and plans to both parents will not only help your child develop an adult relationship with you both, but will also prepare the child for communicating his or her needs and desires to others, both now and later in life. This does not mean, however, that you have a license to communicate your issues through the child. Parents must communicate directly with each other and refrain from using their children as messengers.
In most post-divorce squabbles, the child’s welfare is not being truly threatened-except from the stress engendered by being involved in ongoing bitter parental conflicts. If a child sleeps in a sleeping bag for a weekend or eats peanut butter for dinner, his or her safety is not jeopardized. If a child misses church or stays up until midnight on Saturday night, his or her future is not at risk. If a child is required to dress up (or down) when visiting the other parent, it will cause no permanent damage. If children occasionally have to miss an extended-family party because they are with their other parent, no one is going to die. These examples may include some practices of which you do not approve; it is certainly all right not to approve or like what the other parent does. You are probably divorced because you didn’t agree on many issues and ideas. You do not, however, have a right to try to control what your child does with the other parent. In divorce, both parents lose some control of parenting. If you can accept this fact, you will create a better emotional atmosphere for both yourself and your children.