The problem of control: Co-parenting after divorce or separation
Our previous post discussed the critical difference between influence and control as parents seek to gain cooperation from their children. We can extend this to families adjusting to separation and divorce who face the question of how to parent cooperatively with an ex-spouse or partner. What happens when your ex-partner doesn’t agree with the same house rules and limits that you’ve set for your children?
Cooperation through influence
At Hollyburn we work to help parents realize that their efforts to gain the cooperation of the person who shares the role of parent – whether married, common law, separated or divorced – is also a matter of influence, not control. This is often a challenging, and humbling realization for the recently separated parent who desperately wants to keep life as normal and conflict free as possible while the family adjusts to the change in the couple’s status. It can be made easier with the help of a mediator, family support worker, or counsellor who can help the parent highlight their own personal parenting strengths and recognize how, with time and healing, they may positively influence their former partner.
Conflict between separated or divorced parents is common. It’s often a result of unresolved issues stemming from the adult problems experienced in the former relationship. Parents can learn to cooperate despite these sources of conflict when there is agreement about accepting each other’s influence and letting go of control. In recently separated families this can be more difficult as insecurities are surfacing. It may be that some approaches to setting limits and discipline of children will be temporarily stalled as the family makes the necessary adjustment to the change, and the emotional turmoil subsides. Parents are recommended to seek the support of their adult friends, relatives, and, if necessary, professionals who will work to help the parent keep any hard feelings from interfering with their co-parenting of the children. Groups dedicated to supporting families undergoing separation and divorce may also be helpful. Parents are encouraged to consider the community services available to them to ensure that their changing family is supported through these often-stressful transitions.
Maureen Chute has worked with families for over 15 years. She has provided therapy for individuals, couples, youth and families in public health clinics, hospice/palliative care, private practice and family service agencies. She has trained in Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT).