For many of us the phase “just wait until your father gets home!” could make our blood run ice cold immediately. Being raised to fear the “father” was a way for the “mother” to try and control a child’s behavior. Fear is a very powerful survival response and researchers have found that fear is established unconsciously in everyone’s brain…specifically in the amygdala. While it (the threat of father) usually helped control a child’s unruly behavior in the moment, what it didn’t do was help build and foster a positive, caring, loving or kind relationship with dad.
Before I get too far off track, let me remind you what this blog is about: how you can help your child and their other parent (i.e. your baby daddy or your baby momma) build a strong relationship even when that person is not physically around.
Also, you should know that I’m not using the terms mother and father. I will use primary parent and co-parent for this blog and all future blogs. Many more dads are taking a larger role in their child’s life which is AWESOME, so terminology should reflect that and most of the time the term mother equates to “primary parent” and father to “co-parent.”
I want you to reflect on your childhood for a moment. Were you a lucky one from a double parent home where neither parent abused you (any type of abuse; take your pick). Or were you a kid from a double-parent home where your parents hated each other and made sure everyone around them knew; or, they hid it…either way, you knew and it negatively impacted your life. Maybe, you were the kid who was teased because your mother refused to share who your father was, even to you.
Get my drift? The majority of people today come from homes that are NOT two-parent-no-abuse homes. Let’s not get bogged down and wallow in this factual statement but rather rejoice in the fact that with knowledge comes change and wecan change our relationship with our children AND their other parent (if relevant) for the better.
It’s merely a matter of attitude and approach, right? Is the glass half full or half empty? Is your co-parent a dumb wit or half lit? And if you think I’m trying to be clever, I am, thank you very much, but I’m also trying to make a point.
Ask yourself (in a moment when you’re not frustrated with your co-parent), is this individual really stupid…like IQ score significantly below the 100 “average” mark. Or are they more ADHD and forgetful and unfocused which appears to those who don’t really know them as “dumb?” Do they drink a lot because they suffer from PTSD symptoms and haven’t been able to either break the habit or find a healthier alternative to cope?
EXAMPLE: Co-parent has dropped off your child and has forgotten to pack you kids pajamas. You respond with:
A “Your dad is so stupid. Can’t he ever remember to pack your pajamas when he drops you off for the weekend?”
B “Your dad can be so forgetful! I get frustrated with him when he forgets to pack your pajamas. It’s not the end of the world, and not your fault, but I’m quite irritated…so give me a second to calm down.”
What you say and how you phrase things to your child about their other parent impacts the “image” of who this person is to them. Most parents aren’t able to spend equal amounts of time together with their child (what couple can?) so it’s important to talk about the absent parent in a respectful way.
By respect I don’t mean make stuff up about them that isn’t true in an effort to paint them in a favorable yet false light. And yes I know, many co-parents are complete assholes and make the primary parent’s life miserable because they won’t take responsibility in helping to raise their child. I get that, and I’ve worked with many primary parents who were in that situation and each case is different , so I can’t give you a “say this” type of answer.
What I can say is that when the primary parent approaches the other co-parent in a calm, respectful manner, even if the other co-parent still acted like a jerk-off, the primary parent reported improved feelings about themself. Feelings of increased self-control, positive self-image and happiness replaced their old feelings of anger, hate, fear and rage. The primary parent felt stronger in themselves for being able to control their emotions and speak to their co-partner in a calm, concise, concrete and focused manner.
What if you and your co-parent are happy and life is as good as a unicorn-pooping-rainbow- skittles-on-your-front-lawn good? Well, you can still help create a stronger bond between your children and lovely co-parent.
For example: my co-parent is amazing and our life is pretty damn close to the “unicorn life” as it can get. Of course we have our disagreements as every healthy couple does. Nevertheless, one area we both agree on are her work hours: we both loathe them. My co-parent works very long days to provide for our family and she is usually gone from 8AM-8PM.
Our children wake around 6/6:30AM every day and are in bed between 6:30 PM and 7:00 PM every night. This means my co-parent only sees our children for 2 hours in the morning during the week. Let me break it down even more.
During a 5 day work week my co-parent sees our children for a total of 10 hours
(2 hours in morning x 5 days)
During the 5 day work week I see our children a total of 65 hours
(13 hours awake x 5 days).
During the 2 day weekend my co-parent spends an average of 26 hours a day with our children.
(13 hours awake x 2 days).
During the 2 day weekend I spend an average of 20-23 hours a day with our children. (13 hours awake x 2 days).
Total hours a week co-parent sees our children is: 36 hours
Total hours a week I see our children is: 85-88 hours
Over the weekend my co-parent spends as much time as she can with our kids which usually means she gets the whole 13 waking hours a day with them. Occasionally she has to work or be out of town on business but for the most part she is home every weekend. During our weekends together I take on a more co-parent role and I often get around 3-6 hours of much needed alone time as my co-partner steers the family ship.
We’ve all repeated ourselves over and over and over again when it comes to what we say to our kids. However, your privilege of power comes into play in how you chose to respond to the situation. Your anger at your co-parent can get easily misplaced and released onto your child. This happens to everyone once in awhile because we’re human.
Don’t take out your frustrations with your co-parent on your kids. For example, your co-parent has just pissed you off and left for work. You are still amped up from the argument and your child does something that reminds you of your co-parent and you lash out at them instead. Maybe you angrily say something to your kid like “Why are you doing that? I’ve told you a million times not to do that! Why can’t you ever listen to me!!!!!!!” Or you maybe you say “Why did you just do that? I’ve told you no! You’re just like your father you never listen!”
Nevertheless, a problem in the family unit arises when this type of response happens more often than not. The frustration doesn’t have to be aimed at the child to still have a negative impact. Maybe you call your bff instead to complain about your co-parent. However, if you do it in front of your child they will still hear the words and it will slowly seep into the foundation of the relationship with their other parent.
“Your mom’s a bitch.”
“I’ve met nicer people in the world than your mother.” (Dripping with sarcasm is fine….we aren’t perfect.)
As I mentioned, my children have two very loving and committed parents. At the moment it’s just a simple fact that my partner and co-parent works a lot of the time. When she’s gone and away from the children I say and do something daily (often it’s more than one thing) to make sure we can continue to incorporate her “essence” and importance in our family system.
When shopping with the kids I often say something to the effect of:
“You know Mumsie loves shopping with you guys much more than I do (true statement: I abhor shopping of all kinds) and if she wasn’t working hard to earn money to support us, she would love to shop with you. If she were here what do you think she would do?”
If we are out for a nature walk or just walking around the block I often will point out things my co-parent likes such as a certain flower or type of car. I then will say something such as:
“Hey guys, look at that beautiful dandelion. Mumsie loves to blow the tops off dandelions when they go to seed like this one. Let’s make a wish for Mumsie and blow the seeds.”
Once in awhile during the work week, my co-parent is able to get out of work in time to be home to read the bedtime books to the children. These nights are magical to the kids because it happens so rarely. Consequently, many days when the kids are missing my co-parent they will ask if she is coming home early…or even pretend they hear her coming up the stairs. The disappointment in their faces is enough to break anyone’s heart when I tell them she isn’t coming home. So I say:
“Mumsie loves you both with all her heart and if she could be home every night to tuck you in she would. What is a book she enjoys reading to you both? Let’s read a book for her.”
Reflect on your own childhood and how you felt when your parents talked about your other parent. Were they respectful and tolerant or did they talk smack and were rude. How did you feel? When they spoke either positively or negatively did you take it personally?
Even if you don’t like your co-parent, the efforts you make to at least try and treat your co-parent with respect and civility won’t go unmissed by your child. If you’re lucky enough to still like who you are parenting your child with, wonderful…continue to build on the positive relationship between your child and co-parent when they are not around by speaking positively about th
Not all bags brought to a relationship are meant to be opened by the couple. Sometimes one person needs to really take a look and sort through some bags alone. During that time the partner supports them by giving space and unconditional love. Blah blah blah.….just make it work! Work enough so that your (i.e. the couple unit) baggage doesn’t unnecessarily negatively impact the family unit.
There will always be give and take when it comes to time and priorities and family. Just remember, it won’t always be this way. Your children will grow up and life will evolve….just try to go with the flow and do the best you can with what you know and never stop learning.
I ain’t gonna lie…every once in a very very very blue moon when the kids do something they KNOW my co-parent dislikes and maybe they break something…instead of losing my cool I will say “…wait until we tell Mumsie what you did.”
I say “we” meaning the child and I will talk through whatever happened and together we will tell my co-parent what went down. Of course, by the time we share the story I’ve usually already told my co-parent and we’ve had a good laugh about it. Regardless, in the moment it saves me from:
Losing my temper and taking an action I may regret.
Have to threaten or think of an (enforceable and suitable) ultimatum if they don’t confess/apologize/etc. Listen parents, don’t ever write a check you can’t cash. I’m sure you know this with the banks…same goes for kids. They need to know the line is firm and solid and supportive. Not punitive and movable and spiteful.
It also provides me and my co-parent time to talk about how we are going to approach a suitable punishment while providing a “cooling off” period if required by either parent.