Choose Your Battles Wisely with the Other Parent
By Diane C. Shearer, M.A.
There is a lot to battle over when parents split up, including assets, debts, children, personal pride, and procedural justice, to name a few issues. When it comes to battles over the children, most consist of issues that have little significance in the life of a child, but are more about the emotional significance connected to one or both parents' pride or egos. When parental needs get in the way of the needs of the children, it tends to produce a loss for everyone involved. It is best, then, to choose your battles with your children's other parent based on the signficance and impact it has on the kids, not the parents.
The first rule of choosing your battles with an ex-spouse is to ask, "Who is this conflict really about -- the parents or the children?" For instance, fighting over who will get to plan the birthday party this year probably is more important to a parent than it is to a child. Most kids are happy to have sleepover birthday parties at each parent's house on the weekends that surround their birthday. When mom and dad begin to fight about who "gets" to have the bigger party, it only serves to make the child feel he is the reason for the fight.
A second question to ask might be, "How does this affect my child in the long-run?" Co-parents can spend hours fighting about whether or not Jennifer should take piano or karate lessons or how much it will cost to do both. The long-term affect has nothing to do with whether or not Jennifer plays piano or learns karate. The long-term consequence is that Jennifer will be well-aware that she is in the middle of a battle she is helpless to control. Her self-esteem will suffer more from feeling stuck in the middle of her parents' conflict than it will because she didn't learn karate or piano.
Finally, co-parents do well to ask, "Will my children be okay if I don't get my way?" If you are worried that the other parent is an abusive or unfit parent, then it is clear your children need for you to fight for their health and welfare. This, however, is much different than engaging in a never-ending conflict about getting eight days of visitation during winter break instead of seven. When the conflict has little significance to the true health and welfare of your children, it is better to give up the fight than expose your children to a continuing fruitless battle that they will interpret as their fault.
The bottom line is that kids perceive their parents would not be fighting at all if it weren't for them. Some kids actually say that they wish they could disappear so that their parents would no longer have anything to fight about. When co-parents understand the significance of their conflicts, they are better equipped to decide when to fight and when to just walk away.
Diane Chambers Shearer is a family counselor, divorce mediator, and parent educator in Atlanta, Georgia. She is author of Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families (Fairview Press, 1997) and publishes The Peaceful Co-Parent, a quarterly newsletter for divorce parents. For ordering information, visit her web site at Diane Shearer.com
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