Children are Negatively Impacted by Conflict
For years research has shown that conflict is most damaging to children. Whether their parents are married, divorced, or are living post-divorce, on-going conflict creates the most stress for children. Eliminating conflict is not easy. Eliminating conflict for children ideally comes from a commitment of BOTH parents to do everything they can to create a peaceful transition following a divorce.
What do you do when one parent isn't able to put the kids first? When one parent is too angry, sad, or selfish to set aside the conflict for the sake of their children, it becomes extremely difficult to minimize conflict. There are resources to help you navigate the conflict.
THREE THINGS you can do to minimize conflict for your children are:
- HOLD YOUR TONGUE: While it is tempting to blame the other parent or to tell your children "the truth" about why things are tight financially, or why you cannot take them on vacation, or why they can't stay with you for the weekend, you should simply tell them they cannot do what they want to do but it's ok. Your children need you to respect their right to NOT know every ugly detail about the other parent. They will figure out their own relationship with each parent over time. Saying anything negative, whether blatantly or indirectly, can backfire and create a situation where the children cannot trust either of you.
- BE THE ADULT IN THE ROOM: the greatest gift you can give your children is the reassurance that they are not responsible for fixing anything or figuring out how to make things better. They need to know that is your job and you neither expect, nor want, them to get involved in the decisions which should be made and negotiated between adults.
- DISENGAGE: We give our children advice to walk away from people who are instigating conflict. We tell them to walk away from the bully on the playground trying to pick a fight. It's no fun to fight with someone who won't engage in the fight. It can be very tempting to engage in a war of words with your co-parent, especially when you know you're right, but typically nothing good comes from engaging in an argument. S/he is likely never going to see the world the way you see it or acknowledge that you are right, but s/he may simply enjoy engaging you in the argument. As we tell our kids, don't give them the pleasure of engaging you. Disengage. Walk away. Don't pick up the phone. Don't fire back a nasty email. Let it go.
Sometimes it takes professional help to get a place where you can disengage and manage ongoing conflict with a high-conflict co-parent. You can hire a parenting consultant who works with both parents and serves as a referee when decisions cannot be made between parents. You can hire a parenting coach to work with both parents. You can also hire a private coach to help you navigate the landmines your ex-spouse sets up for you and your children.
Christine Callahan offers services for parents struggling to co-parent as a private parenting coach. See our articles under "Parent Coaching" for more information.