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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
The divorce is final. The judge’s ruling or settlement agreement has resolved all the issues between the couple. The care and custody of the children are carefully laid out in the parenting plan. You are free, at last! But, how come I work so hard to teach my children responsible behavior and their dad let’s them stay up late, leave homework undone, and get them to school just as the bell rings? Why does their mom keep information about their school and health from me? Why does every question lead to a war?
The marriage may be over, but one or both of the exes frequently remain stuck in the relationship. When there are children, they have a playground to act out these feelings. The negative impact on children is so obvious it hardly needs mentioning. Interventions may range from prophylactic to palliative. Of course the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is quite appropriate. Couples that use the divorce process to plan and transition are more likely to minimize the emotional “gunk” that makes moving forward so difficult. When couples begin to uncouple without the willingness or ability to work together on a post divorce plan, what can be done?
Sometimes it is a process of growth and development. Therapy can help. Research through books and videos can be useful. Ultimately, success may lie in the pursuit of relationship management skills. Nothing can get in the way of success like emotional reactions. It’s not about suppressing your feelings, but managing the power feelings have over actions. When reports come back that one parent isn’t doing the best job, it may raise fears that your child will be damaged for life. Parenting values and methods are almost always going to be different in two households. You can be angry about the other parent’s “poor” choices and take aggressive or passive-aggressive actions to combat these “improper” values and methods. Rarely does that lead to anything but pressure on your children. Another choice is to be true to your values and methods, tolerating the other parent’s style, and trusting that your children will, in the end, recognize the higher values and most responsible methods.
Most individuals, having gone through the divorce process, already know they can’t change their spouse (any more than their spouse can change them). So why keep trying? Be the best parent you can be. Be the best ex-spouse you can be. The rest is having faith that your best efforts is the greatest gift you can give your children.