Parenting Apart – Tips for Co-Parents 29
Share these tips with fathers to help them communicate more effectively with their co-parent and other adults involved in their children’s lives:
- Point out what you have in common: “We’re both worried about [Jessie’s cursing].”
- Ask for help: “I need your input on [the cell phone] problem.”
- Ask for advice: “What do you think about [Chris getting a weekend job]?”
- Be honest about how you’re feeling: “I won’t say this doesn’t upset me, but I’ll listen to you.”
- Admit you got it wrong: “I misunderstood what you were telling me.”
- Take responsibility: “I shouldn’t have said it that way.”
- List what you CAN do and plan the rest: “I can deal with [curfew] now. Can we decide on the [driver’s permit when Jamie turns 16]?”
- Acknowledge your responsibilities: “I know it’s my job to work out the [transportation], but can we discuss some details?”
- Take a step back and reflect: “Why do you think we keep fighting about [Rory’s homework]?”
- Don’t assume the worst of intentions: “I know you didn’t intend to sound [mean], but when you talk like that I get [upset].”
- Brainstorm together: “What [bedtime] rules would work for both us and the kids?”
- Acknowledge how important the other person is: “What you say matters to me.”
- Bring respect back into the mix: “I think you’re a good parent. I like the way you [talk to] the kids.”
- Don’t shut down for good: “Can we talk about this next time I call? I need to think about it.”
- Use “I feel____” statements: “I feel [upset] when you [laugh at my suggestions] because [I want to work with you on a solution].”
Tips for Introducing a New Partner to Your Children 30
When is the right time? Introduce a new partner to your children when the relationship is happy, stable, and you are sure that the relationship has a future.
Role models for our children. Kids learn about how to behave from us. Try to avoid exposing them to a succession of fleeting partners. Adults arriving and then leaving their lives, once they have become attached, can affect children’s ability to form long-lasting relationships in the future. It can also be very unsettling for them.
Keep things slow and casual in relation to your children. You may be excited by a new relationship but your children may feel frightened, threatened, angry, or confused. Respect their feelings. Take things slowly. When it feels right to introduce them to a new partner, keep things as casual as you can. The message to convey is “this is mom or dad’s boyfriend or girlfriend, not a replacement parent.”
Talk to and listen to your children. Before your children meet your new partner, talk to them and explain the situation. Then listen carefully to what they say and give them time to talk about anything they are worried about. Reassure them about how much you love them (they may be nervous, particularly if they sense that you are acting differently). They may fear that you will pay them less attention.
Include the children. If your new partner also has children, your children may be more interested in them than they are in your new partner. Recognizing this and creating chances for the children to get to know each other and spend time together may help them adjust to the new situation.
Sleeping over. Ideally, you should wait for your children to have met your partner on a number of occasions and hopefully everyone feels relaxed with each other before your partner stays for ‘sleepovers’ if the children are in the house. Tell your children that your partner will be sleeping over. Try to involve you partner in family meals rather than your partner only turning up when the children have gone to bed.
Spend time with your children. Don’t let time with your new partner consume all the time you spend with the kids. Make sure you still have plenty of one-to-one time with your children. During any transition or change, children are likely to need to see more of you.
Don’t pressure or expect your children to feel the same way you do about your new partner. Give your children space and time to form their own relationship with your new partner. Respect your children’s feelings even if they are not what you’d like them to be.
Parents in healthy families:
- Listen to each other.
- Address conflict directly and positively.
- Share information.
- Participate in activities together.
- Nurture relationships by showing affection and paying attention to the words they use with one another.
Because stepfamilies face additional challenges, parents in healthy stepfamilies also:
- Maintain a cordial relationship with former spouses.
- Use compromise to resolve problems.
- Model healthy communication and commitment for the children.31