Respect as an orienting framework for thinking about post-separation parenting

Managing the demands of shared parenting after separation can be complex - juggling competing schedules of children and families, communicating and negotiating arrangements with the person who you maybe would prefer to have nothing more to do with it it weren't for the fact you have children together. In the face of these challenges, it can be tempting to cope by simplifiying your thinking -your 'ex' is the one with the problem - s/he isn't parenting in the way I'd like, s/he is hopeless or defective in some way. You may try to hide these thoughts and feelings from your kids, but the odds are, they'll pick it up in the way you speak to them about spending time with their other parent.

Managing to not only talk about, but also think about your ex in a respectful way - remembering that this was the person you thought highly enough of at one time to choose to make a family with - is tough to do when you are faced with your ex's struggle with your new relationship, the way you are parenting etc etc, but the rewards are huge.

When you treat your ex with respect, you achieve the following for your children.

  • you are protecting your children from feeling they need to choose to love you more than their other parent in order to make you happy - you're putting their need to have a good relationship with each of you first.
  • you are teaching your children about respect as a key part of healthy relationships - this is a crucial life lesson they wil take forward into their own relationships down the track.
 Separated parents can also fall into the trap of allowing their ex to treat them disrespectfully in order to preserve their children's relationship with the other parent. It's vitally important that respect is required as well as given, and that this is done in a way that is assertive, rather than aggressive. 
When you peacefully and assertively require your ex to treat you with respect, you achieve the following for your children.
  • you show them that they are entitled to be treated with respect, and this does not have to be at the expense of their relationship with someone.
  • you are teaching them invaluable life skills about what respect is and how to ensure they are treated well in their own relationships - with friends, family, and one day with a future partner.
Here is a snapshot of how both treating your ex with respect, and insisting your ex treat you with respect may look like.
  • when your children tell you they don't want to go to the other parent's place for the weekend, find out what it is that is bothering them. Be careful not to assume that you know what the reason is (for example, because of your own feeling towards your ex you may assume s/he is not thinking about how to make their time together enjoyable). Once your children have told you the reason, encourage them to speak directly to that parent about the issue. (Of course, this will not be appropriate in families who have experienced violence. In these cases, depending what the issue is, you may choose to limit contact or involve other professional services to assist).
  • If your ex is consistently refusing to adhere to agreements you've made together for the children, let her or him know that you need to talk about this and that it's not OK. If s/he refuses to do this, you may need to follow through with action - for example, saying something like "I'm sorry, but because you weren't able to tell me for sure that you would have the children this weekend we have made other plans." Again, in families where violence has occurred, you may need extra back-up or support in order to do this effectively and without fear of violent repercussions for you or the children.

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