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Last week I began a two part series reflecting on a statement made by a Minnesota Judge on Co-parenting.  I broke this discussion into two parts because the message of the first–Forgive Yourself–was a big bite to chew and I didn’t want you to skim over that message without really processing it. I hope you spent this last week practicing some of that self-forgiveness. Assuming you have, let’s move on to the second part of this series. In the second half of my message, I discuss two important issues: the impact of your family’s opinions of your ex on your child and child-centered co-parenting. To refresh your recollections, here is the article written by a Minnesota Judge.

Co-parenting is a Family Matter.  And I am sure many people will read the Judge’s words about mudslinging,  nod in agreement and never realize that they are as guilty as charged.  I have seen several examples of families who think nothing of bad-mouthing the other parent of their grandchildren/nieces/nephews/cousins. As an attorney-mediator, this reality is frustrating because neither courts nor I get to speak to the grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts, and cousins who are engaging in this behavior to explain to them that they must stop. Rather this task is left to the children’s parents.

Unfortunately, I have serious doubts that many of the parents tasked with resolving this issue ever go home and say to the offender, “you must stop telling little Johnny that his mother is a whore.” (I apologize if the reader is offended, but family law isn’t a clean language business.) I doubt this because I have clients with children who I see over the years, and I rarely see this particular problem improving.

As parents, we must address this issue for our children’s sake. Even if we are uncomfortable. There are good ways to say difficult things. As a mediator one of my functions is working with extended families to help improve the familial relationships. This can be done by working with the parents to create dialogues to have with family members or even by having mediation sessions with the extended family so that the parties can have face to face discussions with one another and find mutually agreeable resolutions to their issues.

Loving your children vs. owning them. The Judge’s words resonate with me because I have a front row view of this possession of children vs. love of children every day. The biggest hurdle is shining a mirror in the face of the parents I work with. The best solutions come out of seeing our contribution to the problem.  When we cannot see our part in the problem, then the next best option is to create rules through mutual agreements that will lessen the problem.

Parents who love their children realize that sometimes their children are better off with the other parent. This is often true in cases where a new spouse enters the picture and the parent wishes to move away. As hard as it may be to accept, your child is often better off staying with the parent who is not uprooting the child. This is because the child has a life of his or her own and the stability that the child’s life provides to him or her can be more important than spending equal time with mom and dad.

Parents who own their children often appear to be very dedicated to their children–they are involved in PTA, have their children enrolled in several activities, and even take off from work for their children’s birthdays. To an outsider it may be hard to believe such a parent could ever be deemed selfish. The problem is that these “dedicated” parents are often motivated by their desire to be seen as a perfect parent or by their own fear of having children who are not outstanding enough. The selfishness becomes apparent when they are asked to make sacrifices to their own comfort to increase their children’s comfort. Being a good parent is not about what other people think or about making up for our own inadequacies.  Loving a child means putting their needs first. For a divorced parent that often means freeing your children from guilt for wanting to be with their other parent and letting then spend quality time with their other parent. Even if doing so means, you might be alone or that you might be confined to a particular geographical area.

When you becomae parent sharing the child-rearing with an ex, you have to learn to stop and ask yourself, how does my position further my child’s interest? The answer to that question is one of the best guides as to whether to continue on a course of action. If you need help having this discussion with yourself, ask for help. I am always available to work with couples on co-parenting agreements. Or if there is a barrier you can’t knock down with some helpful guidance, I can offer names of several excellent therapists who can help you do deeper work so you can give your child the best childhood you are capable of providing.

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