Psychology Today: How to Foster a Relationship Between Your Ex and Your Child

Lisa Zeiderman, Managing Partner at Miller Zeiderman LLP, authors the latest article for her “Legal Matters” blog in Psychology Today to provide readers with steps to improve relations between child and co-parent. Read the full article below.

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5 steps to help you improve relations between your child and your co-parent

Here are legal tips to protect yourself and your finances.

It isn’t easy, is it?

Divorce can be one of the hardest experiences you will ever go through, particularly if you have children.

If the situation is complicated enough to warrant litigation, the process of divorce could be even harder than the marriage. Some say divorce brings out the worst in people. In many cases, I have known that to be true. In some cases, clients come out of the process disliking their former partner even more than when they started.

So, imagine the surprise on my clients’ faces when I tell them they must do everything they can to get along with their co-parent and to foster a relationship between their children and the other person.

I am not a therapist, but I work with many regularly on my cases. And this is a well-researched fact: Parental conflict hurts children, and children need both parents.

Andrea Labis, LCSW-R, who works with many families going through divorce, said recently, “when you criticize your ex or keep your child from him or her, children really internalize that. The children know their other parent is also a part of them, and criticizing the other parent is also communicating that there is a part of your child that isn’t acceptable or good.”

As a lawyer, I can tell you that this is an issue that comes up repeatedly in litigation. A recent example is in the context of vaccinations.

For example, if you cannot get on the same page as your co-parent and think you will need a judge to decide as to whether you vaccinate your children, it is important to remember that the court will likely not make the decision as to whether the children should be vaccinated.

The court will more likely decide which parent is best equipped to make that decision. This often is determined by several considerations, including which parent is working to foster a relationship with the other parent, and which parent is generally more thoughtful and can put the child’s best interests ahead of their own.

How do you accomplish the feat of getting over your personal feelings and helping to foster this important relationship? Take it one step at a time.

1. Act With Civility First

As one therapist explained, “if you cannot stand to be in the same room with the other person, just act like you are in a grocery store or another public place. Do your best to interact in a polite, civil way, as you would with a stranger.” Remember, your children are watching every move you make, and for the sake of their mental health and ongoing development, they should not have to worry if their parents are going to descend into a screaming match each time they see each other.  

2. Do Not Disparage Your Co-parent

As important as it is to be civil while in the same room as your co-parent, it is also important to behave yourself when they are not there. Do not criticize their co-parent when your children can hear it.
Body language counts too. Even those eye-rolls matter. Try not to do it. Not only is it better for your children, but it will also help you, during this already difficult time, to put those negative, ruminating thoughts out of your mind completely.

3. Go Out of Your Way to Encourage Time Spent With the Co-parent

Make sure you are enabling good, quality time spent with your children’s other parent on the weekends, over the holidays, and when opportunities arise. It might even be helpful to make exceptions outside of the settlement here and there if your co-parent wants to spend more time with the children. This is important. Your children need both of you.

4. Find Something Good to Say About Your Co-parent in Front of Your Children

There is highly likely something about your co-parent that is admirable, or you would not have gotten married in the first place. Maybe they have a great sense of humor, are a great cook, or have good organization skills. Determine your co-parent’s admirable quality, and find a way to show your children you think that person has positive attributes, too.

5. Forgive Yourself When You Slip Up

Most people are hard on themselves after a divorce. The stress feels overwhelming, and it is hard to get the self-care you need. If you do disparage your ex, do not beat yourself up about it. Tomorrow is another day.It bears repeating that study after study shows that parental conflict negatively affects children.

While it might be difficult, it is imperative to foster the relationship between your children and their other parent, as your children are a product of both parents and need both of you.

And, first and foremost, take care of yourself and your children during what can be a very stressful time.

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Originally published in Psychology Today. Read the original publication here.