“Dad!!!!” Tommy yelled from across the house, “Mom forgot to wash my band shirt. I have to have it for school today!” Simple statements like this set off nuclear warfare between divorced households and, far too often, expensive court battles.
It’s hard enough to blend parenting styles between happily married people. Blending from two homes, especially two homes where there is little communication or vastly different standards, all too often leads to warfare.
But, it doesn’t have to.
One key–parents teaching children to address and resolve their own issues. As parents pass along this skill, they prepare their children to address and resolve conflicts with their parents. And with everyone else in their lives. How can parents get here?
Step 1) Help children define the issue
Dad first needs to help Tommy define the real issue. Is it that:
- Mom broke a promise to have the laundry done?
- Tommy has missed other requirements for band class and this could cause him to be kicked out?
- Tommy forgot to grab the shirt and is blaming Mom to avoid responsibility?
Step 2) Decide who owns the issue
If the real issue is that Mom blew getting laundry done, again, it’s all too easy for Dad to call (or text) Mom and let her have it for putting Tommy (and Dad) in a tight spot.
But, if Dad continues to “defend and protect” Tommy from his Mom, he sends two bad messages:
- First, that Tommy can’t trust Mom.
- Second, that Tommy can’t trust himself.
Maybe Dad doesn’t trust Mom, but Tommy needs to.
More, Tommy needs to trust himself, and his own ability to work through issues with his Mom. Especially, if the same issues keep arising.
How does a parent know if the child owns the issues? Two questions:
- Who brought up the issue?
- Who is upset?
If Dad had raised the issue and Dad was upset, then the issue would be Dad’s to fix. But, here Tommy raised the issue, and Tommy is upset. So, Tommy owns the issue.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Dad leaves Tommy to sink or swim. Instead, Dad helps Tommy think through how to work on this with his Mom.
Step 3) Equip children to work through the issue with the other parent
Dad should ask Tommy what he (Tommy) can do to ensure he has the school clothes he needs when he needs them.
If Tommy is age 7, Dad could help Tommy establish a habit of laying out everything he needs the night before school. Then, everyone is aware of anything missing while there’s still time to fix it. If Tommy is age 12, Dad can teach him to do laundry.
Even more, Dad can equip Tommy to have a conversation with his Mom about the problem. He could coach Tommy to say something like, “Mom, I felt really embarrassed about showing up to band class without my shirt. And, the band director was pretty angry. I thought it would be washed by this morning. What can we do to make sure I have the shirt when I need it?”
Rather than Dad making a call and setting everyone’s defenses on high alert, Tommy learns to handle his issues respectfully. He respectfully raises a concern, offers his reason for the concern, and asks how to change the situation in the future.
Tommy and his mom then figure out a system. Probably not the same system that Dad and Tommy use, but one that works for their home. More, Tommy learns how to work through the inevitable conflicts he will have with both parents, and how to create healthy relationships with both.
The parents’ role
Parents should help children frame the conversations they need to have with the other parent. They also should be ready to receive these conversations on their turn.
Let’s face it, single parenting is grueling. And, balls get dropped. When children come to talk, a parent’s first reaction may be to blow up or shut down. After all, most parents feel they are doing the best they can.
Instead, parents need to hear children out. Parents can ask themselves the same key questions:
- What is the real issue?
- Is there a part I own? Is there a part my child owns?
- How do we fix this together?
As parents work through issues with children, they build their home. They also demonstrate to the other parent that each can address their own issues with their children and leave the other parent to do the same. Children learn to trust both parents and themselves, leading to better relationships all around.
For more insights on setting boundaries in divorce, consider Joint Custody with a Jerk: Raising a Child with an Uncooperative Ex, by Julie Ross and Judy Cocoran.
If you would like assistance working through parenting issues in your pending or past divorce, call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We are ready to serve you.