Written by Molly Murphy, Cordell & Cordell, PC
You have separated or broken up, and you are facing life without the partner who has helped you raise your child. The one thing you can both agree on is that you love your child. Hopefully you can both agree that you want what is best for your child. As you know, you both may have very different ideas on what that is. The following are some ground rules you should live by for your child’s sake:
- It is not a competition between you and the other parent. You don’t need to be the parent who out buys the other with expensive gifts. Your child needs a kiss before bed, not the latest Xbox game. You don’t need to be the parent who cooks a five star meal every evening with quail meat and sage dressing. Macaroni and cheese with a hotdog is okay. Your child just wants to spend time with you. Having a parent sit down with them and ask them about their day is a huge boost of confidence to a child. It doesn’t matter if you know who Hannah Montana is or not, it is important to your child. This time lets them know you are interested in them. Understand that what your child needs is you as a parent, not a bank account. Also, don’t become your child’s friend, even if the other parent has. A child needs and flourishes with rules. Just because the other parent lets your child stay up until 11:00 p.m. and allows him watch to watch PG-13 movies does not mean you have to allow that, also. Being firm does not mean you are the mean parent. It means you love your child enough to want them to grow up to be a good person, and not a selfish brat. Let your child know that you and their mom have different ways of raising them, and neither way is right or wrong.
- If there is a court-ordered schedule, understand that that comes into play if you and your former partner do not agree. Being flexible when you can be is worth it in the long run. Does it really matter to you if you pick your child up at 9:00 a.m. as the court order states, or 9:30, which would allow your child to finish eating his mom’s favorite pancake breakfast she makes once a year? Be flexible and do not insist on all of your specific days and times. Consider your child. Is it necessary for your child to leave his cousin’s birthday party for you to take him to the grocery store with you, just because the court papers state a specific time? Allow your child to enjoy the party, rather than arguing with your ex-partner. Think of your child and not how their mom purposely makes you wait every time you pick them up.
- Encourage and help your child celebrate your ex-partner’s birthday, Mother’s Day and even the holidays. You can do this by sending a card. If you like, you can also help them make or buy a gift. You can turn it into an adventure by taking your child to the dollar store or helping them create a card with stickers. Even helping them color a picture allows your child to feel a sense of participation at the party or event. Plus, it has given you some special time with your child creating together. Even if his mom has never done this for you, it is good for your child. Remember your child looks to you for a good example as they go through life. Do you want them to remember you as the parent who helped them make a card, or the one who wouldn’t let them even bring gifts from their mom into your house?
- Listen when your child wants to talk about the other parent. Recognize that she is one of the two most important people in your child’s life. A child’s world is very limited in that they know their family and school. The time they spend with the other parent is a huge part of their day and life. It also helps to speak highly of their plans with the other parent. You may think going horseback riding is the last thing you may want to do, but your child is looking forward to it. Let the other parent do their thing, and you do yours. Talk to your friends or family about your opinions. Don’t talk to or in earshot of your child. Then ask your child how it was and what their favorite part was when they come home. Help your child by asking your family and friends, and yes even your parents, to not speak badly of the other parent. They may hate the other parent, but your child still loves her. Feeling safe in their world is important to a child.
- Be the bigger person. Yes, this person tried to ruin your life. But greeting them with a smile or a hello can go a long way to reassure your child that everything is okay. Be enthusiastic. Children pick up on tension and anger, and have a tendency to act out as a response. Don’t force your child to defend his mom to you. That’s not their job. The best thing for you and your child is to let go of your anger and move on with your life. A child should be allowed to love both of his parents unconditionally.
Remember, you may hate or even depise their Mom, but that is not your child’s fault. Your child deserves the best from you and of you. Don’t let them down.