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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Loving All of Your Child When You Hate the Other Parent

The other parent is in my child and my child is of his father as much as he is of me. I see it in his smile and the wrinkle of his nose. I hear it in his laugh and his distinctive voice. I marvel at the comfort of his extroversion that could have only come from his father. Today I have affection for all of these wonderful ways in which my son is like his father. But I struggled mightily in earlier years to find ways to love and nurture all of my son, and to support him becoming the young man he is today.

Asked if they love their child almost all parents would say "of course, I do! How could you even ask that question?" But in the world of divorce, broken families, custody battles and tension-filled co-parenting relationships, it is a question that needs to be asked slowly, thoughtfully and repeatedly to help parents overcome their denial about the direct damage done to a child who is raised by a parent who dislikes, mistrusts, or even hates half of who that child is.

Learning to love all of who your child is following the break-up of your relationship requires a strong commitment to developing a new set of parenting skills to protect your child over the long term from your adult emotions, judgments and disappointments.

Step 1 is learning to control your eye rolls, winks, sighs, hand signals, voice tone, whispered criticisms, and snide or sarcastic references to the other parent and his or her friends, family and values.

Step 2 is learning to communicate with the other parent ONLY about coparenting matters and doing so in a straightforward manner without hooks, barbs, innuendo, condescension or innuendo

Step 3 is finding a way to show basic respect for the other parent's contribution to your child's spirit, presence, personality, physicality, existence.

Step 4 is communicating that respect to your child in a manner that is genuine - children can tell when you are faking it.

Step 5 is skill development through practice-practice-practice.

Skills include a combination of:
1 noticing your emotional reactions/over-reactions,
2 restraining yourself,
3 talking your reactions over with other neutral adults,
4 learning when you need to initiate a communication
5 learning when you need to respond to a communication,
6 drafting and saving;
7 editing and saving;
8 editing and deleting OR editing and sending.
9 sending ONLY when you have determined that the response is appropriate and necessary,
10 limiting communication to 40 words or less and focused on just 1 topic, no more than 1 per day unless it is an urgent matter needing to be resolved in less than 24 hours.

Unless you truly have an "amicable" break-up, it is going to take anywhere from 6 months to a couple of years to sort all this out and begin to have some sense of competence about your coparenting. In the meantime, find some support from people who will help you be wise and mindful about your self care and the needs of your child.