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Co-Parenting: One Thing to Remember

Co-Parenting: One Thing to Remember by Gayla Grace

I watched my son’s friend negotiate an upcoming visitation schedule with his dad at a recent soccer game. I could sense the stress the teen felt as he was thrust in the middle between his parents. I wanted to step in and tell the dad, “Call your ex-wife and work this out. This isn’t your son’s responsibility.”

It might seem easier to ask our kids to handle the communication to avoid the ex. I get it. My husband and I had numerous co-parenting collisions with ex-spouses when our kids were still at home. Some of them could’ve been prevented. Some could not.

But one thing we learned early on (and the one thing to remember!): keep the kids out of the middle.

To co-parent successfully requires intentional effort on our part, including sacrifices and tongue-taming, to make it work. But it’s our responsibility, not our children’s, to negotiate the details.

The biggest challenge may be learning how to be amicable in a relationship with someone you couldn’t get along with when married to them.  And while it is hard, I believe it is the link to success when parenting children after divorce.

Co-parenting often creates tension and stress.

We have to remember that when disagreements arise, it’s important to keep them out of range of children’s ears. Adult issues need to be confined to adults.

It’s OK to ask the children how they feel about a particular issue (visitation, event, etc.) but the negotiating and scheduling should be done by the adults.

Stepchildren are unnaturally pulled between two homes with parents they love in both homes. Asking them to make a choice or take sides with one home over another creates hurt.

This is not a game of Tug of War with the children as the rope!

Co-Parenting: One Thing to Remember by Gayla Grace

The Solution

Strained co-parenting gives us an opportunity to practice the gifts of the Spirit as defined in Galatians 5:22-23: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I know it’s not easy but as our children watch us (and they are watching!) model kindness and goodness or patience and self-control in the midst of rude or unkind behavior, they learn the value of asserting these qualities in their own lives.

And we gain the satisfaction of knowing we did the right thing, even when it wasn’t easy.

Have you been caught in the middle? What steps did you take (or wish you’d taken) to remedy the situation?

Your Parenting Style: How Does it Affect Your Stepparenting?

blog picOne of the biggest struggles in stepfamilies is learning how to parent together and working through the conflict that naturally surrounds parenting.

Your parenting style plays a huge role in how much and how often you have conflict in regards to the kids so I’m going to give some detail on the three major parenting styles: authoritative, permissive, and authoritarian.

Parenting research shows the healthiest style of parenting to be the authoritative. This parent shows a high level of control in the home with a high level of warmth. Boundaries are enforced regularly but a child also feels loved and valued. Discipline is done in a way that is supportive, rather than punitive. Ideally, this would be the parenting style enforced most often by both parents in a step couple relationship.

A permissive style, as indicated by its name, is a parent with permissive standards and few demands of the children, along with a very loving, warm nature. It would seem that children thrive with this style, also known as indulgent parenting, but it naturally leads to children being in control of the home, which is never a good thing–especially as they move into their adolescent years.

The third parenting style that researchers refer to is an authoritarian style. Authoritarian parents enforce strict standards with little regard for a tender, compassionate relationship. Children raised with authoritarian parents often show signs of anger and resentment due to the heavy control and lack of relationship in the home. The danger in step couples is for a stepparent to lean toward an authoritarian style of parenting with lots of rules and a minimal relationship. Rules without relationship leads to rebellion in stepfamilies.

In a step couple, it’s natural for individuals to lean toward different parenting styles. The differences can complement each other if they’re not too extreme. However, struggles will occur frequently if the biological parent leans toward permissive and the stepparent leans toward authoritarian. This will create anger and resentment for stepchildren and high conflict for the step couple.

Parenting must be a team effort in your stepfamily. The biological parent should be the primary disciplinarian as much as possible (in an authoritative role). The stepparent, particularly in the early years, should be focused on relationship-building, not rule-enforcing. However, the biological parent must support the stepparent’s efforts when he or she chooses to play an authoritative role, which will naturally happen at times.

If you’re a stepmom parenting with a husband who leans toward a permissive style, I recommend you purchase Laura Petherbridge’s book, The Smart Stepmom and read the chapters together that address the stepparenting team. One is titled, “Dad Smart: She Can’t Do it Without You,” and “Dad Smart: Pitfalls and Good Intentions.”  There’s also good information in Ron Deal’s book, The Smart Stepfamily, on this topic.

If you’re a stepparent who leans toward authoritarian parenting, I recommend you step back and let your spouse take the lead in parenting his or her children. Give yourself a break! Your stepchildren will grow to love and respect you quicker and you will have more harmony in your home.

You CAN find compatibility as a parenting team but it takes time and perseverance. There will be times of disharmony in your home, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed–it’s a natural progression to the process. My husband and I have determined that we will “agree to disagree” at times when we are at different spectrums on our parenting opinions. If there is little risk in the parenting choice, we let it go and allow the parent of their biological child to make the decision, even if we don’t agree with it.

Laura Petherbridge says, “Do you want to be right or do you want to have peace?” After almost 2.5 decades of parenting, I recognize there’s more than one way to parent. Keep a long-term focus: what matters in the end with parenting is the adult you’re creating in the process.

What is your parenting style? How does it affect your stepfamily?

Pic by nokhoog_buchachon