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Showing your kids you’re still a family after a break-up

July 24th, 2010 at Sat, 24th, 2010 at 6:48 am by Vivian Scott

My mediation practice often sees families in various states of emotional disrepair.   They each have unique circumstances, but the couples I see often have a few things in common—namely children and a need to create a sense of family out of what is now a “new normal.”  You may be in a similar position and wondering how you can get past the past, so to speak, and create an approach to family you would want your children to emulate in their adult lives. 

I’m not a child psychologist or an expert in human behavior, but experience tells me that when there are children involved in a parential dispute, there are certain patterns that emerge at the mediation table.  It’s never a surprise to me when I hear comments such as, “He’s just about the money!” or “She’s always trying to control me!”  Of course there are variations on how exes describe each other’s motivation and I could create quite an interesting list for you, but the one statement that I hear over and over again from both sides is, “I would do anything for my kids.”  The parents will repeat the phrase a number of times and then go on to describe all the horrible things they’ve done (and continue to do!) to each other.  Let me be bold here and say that when it comes to “doing anything for your kids” creating a sense of family for them deserves to be first on your list.  And, when it comes to building a positive family environment, it’s not what you say but rather what you do that matters.

So, if you’re interested in creating a sense of family after a divorce or separation, adopting a new code of conduct is vital.  If you need motivation for changing the way you present the concept of family to your children, please remember that the few moments in which they see you interacting with your ex are the same moments they see themselves as part of a family.  It doesn’t matter to them if you were never married, if you have deep seeded resentment toward each other, or if you view your ex as the person who has hurt you the most in life.   What matters to your little ones in those moments is how they view their family.  If you’re ready to create a family your child can feel good about, make a pledge to follow a code of conduct such as this one:

1)      I will acknowledge that my children have two parents whom they love equally (and a lot!).

2)      Regardless of how the other parent speaks about or to me, I will remain respectful.

3)      I will not participate in efforts to make sport out of trying to get our child to choose a favorite.

4)      I will not speak ill of my child’s other parent when my child is within 5,000 miles of me, nor will I allow relatives, friends, or acquaintances to speak ill of them either.

5)      I will be careful how I interpret or judge my ex’s behavior and intentions.

6)      I will not deliver cold shoulders, mutter snarky remarks under my breath, or do anything that demonstrates poor communication with the other parent during phone calls, emails, or while exchanging our children in parking lots, fast food restaurants, the front door, or any other place for that matter.

7)      When asking for a favor of the other parent, I will also present a few benefits, which means I will think about his/her perspective as well as my own.

8)      If I experience a problem in any of our agreements, I will present the issue along with three possible solutions.

9)      I will be aware that my children love me and may want to tell me negative things about the other parent, step-parents, or my exes’ significant others.  I will listen, give appropriate feedback, and approach any subject with my ex the same way in which I would want my ex to approach it with me.  I will do this mostly because I am smart enough to know that if my children are bringing negative comments back to me about my ex, they’re probably delivering similar comments to my ex as well.

10)   I will conduct myself in such a way that when my children are grown they will acknowledge me for teaching them how to treat others when we disagree with them and, that above all else, I loved them enough to “do anything for them” including creating a sense of family even when I didn’t feel like it.

Don’t worry about adhering to all the points right away.  If it seems overwhelming to change your habits with your child’s other parent all at once, try tackling one or two and then adding a few more from the list after you’ve mastered the first ones (or at least become relatively good at them).  Also, feel free to add your own points—a  list of things you’re willing to do for your children can never be too long.

Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator with a private practice serving King and Snohomish Counties. She is the author of, "Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies" and a contributing author of "Thriving in the Workplace For Dummies" as well as "Managing All-in-One For Dummies" (Wiley Publishing). Ms. Scott is a Certified Mediator Member of the Washington Mediation Association and received their Outstanding Contributor Award in 2012. Her mediation cases range from assisting couples through divorce and parenting plans to creating new workplace environments for organizations of all sizes. You can learn more about Vivian by visiting her website at www.vivianscottmediation.com. or www.anytimeseminars.com

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