Parenting can be much like the old Peace Corps slogan, “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” It can also be natural, easy and seamless, except for when it is not. Consistency serves as one of the most crucial and useful parenting tools and can be one of most elusive as well. Consistency can be difficult to establish on your own and challenging to maintain between parents who live together. Add in a high conflict divorce, new spouses and other additions to the family and what was once challenging becomes daunting. It is also a key harm reduction component for children of divorce. Co-parenting is essential for all children from multi-parent families and the process to get to competency post-divorce or separation can be a difficult road. Co-parenting consultation can be the necessary roadside assistance.
When considering divorce/separation in general, and more specifically when there is high conflict component, people often have a vision of what divorce/separation will mean for themselves, their child(ren) and their sanity. There are many “If only…” thoughts that exist prior to separation and the hope of peace and calm post separation can often be disrupted by a barrage of phone calls, text messages and emails…and that is just what has occurred between 8:00 am and Noon on a Tuesday. The process can take an incredible toll on the adults involved. Unfortunately, it can and often does cause significant distress to the children in these families.
Parental conflict has a significant impact on children and has been shown to predict how well children adjust to the divorce/separation of their parents. Some factors that suggest children are under stress and that assistance may be beneficial are: sudden separation anxiety, regression of behavior, increased moodiness, acting out, manipulative behavior, increased expressions of anxiety and depression, eating and sleep disruption, and changes in academic or social functioning. Many of these symptoms manifest as children witness ongoing conflict between their parents as well as lengthy or multiple rounds with the legal system. Children can often (intentionally or unintentionally) be put in the messenger role, relied upon for emotional support, and made to feel that they must choose between or placate each of their parents. The research is clear on the positive impact on children that a stable, low intensity relationship has on adjusting to divorce and separation.
Parents in all phases of divorce and separation can benefit from co-parenting consultation. Co-parenting consultation provides support to navigate decision making, a place to move beyond anger and grief related to the ending of the relationship and to focus on moving forward in the best interest in the child(ren). Part of the goal of co-parenting consultation will be to create and maintain strong parenting alliances after separation to support children in experiencing a secure environment that they can depend on while they grow. For our high conflict families, this is an opportunity to enhance skills to remove contempt and blame language from interactions, reduce undue stress to both parents and children, and to focus on developing brief and business like interactions that support reduction in frequency and intensity of communication, and serve to promote healthy interactions and efficient decision making. For parents who have been co-parenting for some time, this can be an opportunity to strengthen co-parent alliances and increase healthy communication and decision making.
Creating a stable, caring and consistent environment for children to grow-up in reduces stress and supports moving beyond the changes to the family that are inevitable when parents divorce or separate. Parents have the ability to limit the negative impact and reduce the stress of divorce and separation on their children as well as for themselves. Learning the tools to increase effective communication and reduce the frequency and intensity of reactivity will serve to support not only the children of divorce, but the adults as well.
Want to learn more about coparenting consultation? Listen to a recent audio clip from the KLWN Morning Show featuring Wes Crenshaw and Adrian Zelvy.