How can co-parenting impact a child's self-esteem and how can we make sure we don't negatively impact it?
Co-parenting, or parenting after divorce, is hard on all parties involved. Sharing the responsibility of caring for and raising your kids while married and living together is often (but not always) easier, simply due to the dynamics of everyone being under one roof. Co-parenting from separate homes with their various schedules and personal agendas presents more of a challenge.
What can make co-parenting even more of a challenge is when you and your ex don't get along. All too often, anger over one area (alimony, visitation rights with the kids, who gets the dog) can spill into other areas. Suddenly, you find yourself fighting about things in which before you've always seen eye-to-eye.
We know that it's our job to set aside the lingering issues or anger we may have with our former spouse and work together to raise our kids. We also all know this is easier said than done. The fact is that arguments and disagreements with your ex are going to happen. The die-hard rule to follow when disagreements arise is this: do not put your child in the middle.
Not putting kids in the middle includes everything from not arguing in front of your children to not using them as messengers ("Tell your father that... " or even "Give him this note."). Likewise, never badmouth your ex in front of your child-especially to younger children. Kids often believe that if their parent is really a bad person, then genetically they are destined to be a bad person, too. This "blood theory" is, of course, untrue, but too many children grow up with damaged self-esteem because a parent used them to complain about an ex. Remember, too, that our children are sponges and how they see you handle yourself and your relationships with others will affect how they view relationships in the future.
Children often need reassurance that the reasons behind a split had nothing to do with them. Convey this message, again without badmouthing or blaming your ex. But above all, to keep a child's self-esteem strong, the best message you as a parent can offer is that your love for your child is unwavering and eternal.
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Pioneer educator Dr. Michael Popkin is the founder of Active Parenting Publishers and is the author of many award winning video-based parenting education programs.An expert in his field, Dr. Popkin earned a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Georgia State University and has served as Director of Child and Family Services at an Atlanta hospital.