I’ve been recently working with a couple who are divorcing and we were looking at how to handle the new roles that both these parents now face whilst going through the transition.
One area I discussed with them was accepting that their ex has a continued role to play in their child’s life, which is not the same as being required still to like, or admire that person.
Children don’t need to hear you praising their other parent or extolling their virtues, because that’s unrealistic (if you were still on each other’s wavelength you wouldn’t be separating, divorcing or splitting up in the first place) but they do need you to not undermine their other parent.
I always encourage the parents I work with to separate the person from the parent. I think it helps to reflect on the part that person played in the life of your children, as it shifts the focus from you to them.
It’s helpful to focus on two separate aspects – what you wanted from a partner and what you wanted from them as a parent. I get my clients to write down all the qualities that were important to them on a piece of paper folded in half. On one side the heading says ”As a partner” and the other says “As a parent.”
Some of the things people write are:
- They were someone who made me laugh
- They were faithful
- They were someone who I was proud to be with
- They were someone who shared my values
- They treated me with respect and kindness
- They shared my interests
- They were patient with the children
- They put the kids to bed
- They listened to the kids and read them stories
- They are capable of looking after the children
- They played games and made the kids laugh
- They gave great advice to the children
- They are a great role model to the children
Obviously each couple has their own list of qualities that are important to them, and of course some overlap but this is a positive exercise as it shifts perceptions and helps to separate the partner from the parent.
Next I get the parents thinking about those parenting qualities that the parent can still bring to their children’s lives through the changes.
One question I ask that is quite powerful is “Are there things that they can give your children that you aren’t able to?” - and this doesn’t refer to material things.
This may not always be an easy process to work through, particularly if that person has hurt you badly or you are locked into real conflict with them, but it’s a hugely important and valuable one for parents interested in putting their children’s well being at the centre of this painful process.