When a Chicago real estate agent and her husband decided to end their marriage, they made a conscious decision to put their egos aside and to focus on the children. As the parents of two boys, the wife said, she and her husband faced their divorce and parenting negotiations with the same goal they had during their marriage: to be a good influence on their children.
They started by writing a letter to the boys, answering questions they felt the boys were likely to ask. The couple also encouraged the children to journal. And, after the divorce, they agreed that every Friday would be family night. The parents share equal custody.
Psychologists admit that this level-headed approach is unusual during a divorce. According to one practitioner from Evanston, many times the unresolved issues from the marriage govern discussions about custody. The best interests of the children take a back seat to their parents' hurt feelings. When parents are openly critical of each other in front of the children, the kids can interpret it as criticism of them.
The Evanston psychologist encourages parents to write things down, as the real estate agent and he husband did. It helps to move parents to agreement on their approach and their priorities without airing their differences in front of the kids. The risk in divorce is that the children won't feel safe, and a calm, strong and unified approach will help to keep the kids calm, too.
Shared custody agreements are, or should be, collaborative by nature. In cases where there is one custodial parent, there is always the risk that the non-custodial parent -- the weekend dad -- will take on what experts call the "Santa Claus" role.
The key, according to both the psychologist and the real estate agent, is to make communication a priority.
Resource: Chicago Tribune "Successful Co-parenting" 10/26/10