The reality for many fathers and mothers is that they have to spend more hours at their jobs than they get to spend with their families. Fortunately, there are lessons that can be drawn from the workplace that will help you to be a better parent and co-parent both during and after your divorce.
Your divorce from your ex may be fraught with anger, grief, and other strong emotions. If you have kids together, though, you're going to need to continue to interact for years. If you let those negative emotions affect your interactions, everyone, but especially your kids, will suffer.
It helps if you change your mindset regarding the nature of your relationship with your ex. Remember that it's shifted from a personal relationship to, essentially, a business one. Your shared business is the raising of your children.
At work, you may have to deal with difficult colleagues, but your focus is on the success of the project. In this case, the project is raising, healthy, happy, well-adjusted adults. Keeping your attention on what your kids need, instead of your anger toward your ex, is essential to the success of that project. You don't let emotion get the better of you at work; don't do it here.
To carry forward the analogy, there are certain things you do in your work life in order to keep your job. You show up on time. You don't miss a shift for no reason, and if you must miss work, you call in or arrange for someone to cover your duties. When you're there, you give it your all.
Of course, you can't get fired from being a father or mother. But if being a parent is important to you, as most parents claim it is, you'll show it the same dedication in co-parenting that you do at your job. Pick your kids up and drop them off on time (and clean, fed, and cared for). If you can't be there, let your ex know with as much notice as you can. Remember, if you fail to show up for parenting, someone else — your ex — has to do your “work.” Do this enough times, and it will jeopardize your custody arrangement, your parenting time, and most importantly, your relationship with your kids.
When you need to communicate important information at your job, you send it through reliable channels. If it's important enough, you document it. You don't share it with people who shouldn't have access to it. You follow up when necessary. You steer clear of workplace gossip.
The same principles should govern co-parenting. Don't rely on kids to communicate messages because you don't want to talk to your ex. This creates unnecessary pressure on kids, and as most parents know, is often unreliable E-mailing or texting allows you to communicate easily and clearly with your ex without having to deal face-to-face. Another great tool is the use of co-parenting websites such as Our Family Wizard, which allow parents to upload and share information in an easy-to-use way.
It should go without saying, but never, never, use your children to convey personal information to your ex ("Tell Mommy I miss living with her"), or to try to find out what's going on in your ex's life ("Does Daddy ever have anyone sleep over?"). For one thing, such communications are out of place in your new business relationship with your ex. More importantly, they unfairly and inappropriately entangle your children in adult matters they should not be dealing with.
If alliances are important in the workplace, they're even more important in real life. If divorce has upended your world, imagine what it's done to your kids, who had no control at all over the situation. They need as much stability and support now as they can get. As their parent, it's your job to strengthen their relationship not only with you, but with their other parent and other family members.
Support your kids' time with grandparents and extended family. Resist the temptation to badmouth your ex or your ex's family. These relationships may no longer be important to you, but they're essential for your kids.
In the workplace, we're taught to identify our talents and cultivate them. The same applies to parenting, especially after divorce. Perhaps during your marriage, your spouse took the lead in parenting. You may have even felt you “weren't very good” with kids.The truth is, you do have strengths as a parent. You just need to recognize and foster them.
Almost certainly, your parenting style and strengths are different from those of your ex. That's not a bad thing. Whether or not you were relegated to a supporting role as parent during your marriage, recognize that what you have to offer your kids is unique — and important. Don't be intimidated because your child's other parent does things differently. While maintaining consistency in some matters is important in co-parenting, it's okay to have your own parenting style. The important thing is to always keep the success of the “project” — your kids' well-being — uppermost in your mind.
To learn more about divorce, child custody, and co-parenting, we invite you to contact Arn Family Law for a consultation. Arn Family Law serves clients in Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore, Frederick, Carroll, Calvert, St. Mary's, Queen Anne's, Talbot and Montgomery Counties and the surrounding region of Maryland. We look forward to working with you.