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The Fundamentals of Coparenting, Part Two: Respect
Last week I wrote a post about Coparenting, Trust and Reliabilty. Another piece that is a fundamental basic part of co-parenting is respect. When you do not have respect for another person, how does that relationship work? If you think of a relationship in terms of the coworking relationship, most people would say that they would not waste their time or go out of their way to help a coworker that they do not respect. You may ignore that person or avoid that person because it is better then existing in conflict. If that coworker were to ask you for help with something they were working on, you would try to find any number of excuses so that you would not have to help them. Could you be in the same building with them? Yes. Could you share a cubicle with them? Most likely no. As a matter of fact, you would probably ask your boss to move you. If you stuck it out and tried to make it work, your work day would be most unpleasant, you would have a difficult time concentrating on your work, and you would probably start having physical symptoms of illness, such as gastrointestinal problems, headaches or fatigue.
When you are a conscientious worker, who tries your best to complete your work, meets deadlines and be valuable to your company, it would be difficult to see a coworker who reaps the same benefits that you do, but is a drag on the team. They may not care about working hard. They get the same paycheck that you do, and depending on how long they have been there, maybe even more. They also get the same benefits. They are not judged on their merits. They do not have the same work ethic as you do and they have not earned your respect. You know that they are perfectly happy knowing that you will do more so that they can do less.
In the coparent relationship, very rarely do both parents do all of the work equally for the children. It may have been this way when the two of you were married and now that you are divorced, the family court views you equally as parents. Maybe one parent was with the children most of the time because the other parent has a demanding job and was often away. The arrangement worked, somewhat, in that setting, because you both got a payoff for that type of arrangement. The one parent really wanted to be there to care for the children and spend a great deal of time with them. The enjoyment of their life was on watching the children grow and watching them participate in activities. The other parent was not as invested in having that much time with the children because they wanted to have a successful and stimulating career. There is nothing wrong in this scenario. This was how the parents wanted it, when they were together, in the same house, and it worked for them.
The problem occurs when the couple has an issue that precipitates divorce. For some reason, trust has probably diminished, if not been lost all together. There may have been a betrayal, an affair, an addiction that made the relationship crumble, or something that made the couple grow apart. Some event happened that made one of you lose respect for the other. Even if the relationship ended and it seemed that it could be on good terms, another betrayal happened. Suddenly, the parent who was not interested in the children during the marriage, is now overly interested in them since the divorce. There may be a number of reasons for the newly found interest. The person who is without the children is missing them more than they thought they would or maybe they feel entitled to spend a lot of time with them because they pay child support, or maybe, their lawyer told them they have the right to x, y, and z, and so, by God, they will have x, y and z. You may have suspicions about what their real motive is, but it will be hard to prove that to a court. The courts do not care. You are both parents of these children and in the eyes of the court, you both have equal rights to the children. It may not be fair, but it is true.
For those who do the heavy lifting of parenting, the one who does all the grunt work, while the other parent is off partying or being the Disneyland mommy o daddy, it can be very hard to witness this unfairness. Maybe you, too, would like to just have the fun of it all, while someone else did all the work!
The unfortunate reality in high conflict divorce is that these cases almost always involve one irresponsible parent. Sometimes there are two! When one person does the heavy lifting and the other parent sweeps in to tell the court authorities, the school officials, the medical providers and anyone else who wants to hear, just how wonderful a parent they are, but the other parent watches them take the children to Disneyland or to buy lots of toys, it is frustrating and disappointing, to say the least. Knowing that they cannot afford to do that because they have to put food on the table, they are the one who has to be the disciplinarian, and they are the one who has to make sure the homework gets done and the clothes are washed, it can really do a number on respect for the other parent.
Much like working with someone for whom you have no respect, you will want to avoid the other parent or ignore them as much as possible. It is hard enough to know how irresponsible they are and trust them to have the children for whole weekends, but then to be under court order to coparent with them, is just like being stuck in a cubicle with a lazy coworker. The court wants you to “share” the children. If you complain that you are always the heavy lifter, the court may think they will help you with that and assign some responsibility to the other parent. But if you know that they are irresponsible and will forget or neglect to do their part, you know that you will be the one left to pick up the pieces and clean up any messes that are caused by the behavior of the other parent. If you have to clean up after them, you often come to the realization that you might as well be the one allowed to manage that piece if it, but God forbid you ask. The court will call you controlling.
It is a problem because with any relationship, you start out with respect and lose it over time. It takes observing and experiencing the irresponsible nature of the other person to open your eyes. Once they are opened, you cannot unsee the truth. The coparenting relationship is like that, too. You may hope that the relationship will be ok, now that the two of you have separated. Again, it is over time that they see that they cannot trust the other person even where the children are concerned. Agreements that were made, now seem extremely unfair.
What should happen in cases like this is that the arrangement that
people had during the marriage should continue. The arrangement that
worked may not have been blessed by the courts, but it made the family
function based on the truth about who the two people were and the roles
they wanted to play as parents. Just because someone has “rights”
doesn’t mean they have to exercise them, nor does your family have to
function the way the courts want it to or the way your attorney thinks
it should. The courts will not be around once your children turn 18, but hopefully both of you as parents will. Respect has to be earned. If each parent can follow the path of the parent they are in their heart and not put on a “show” for court, there is a grea
ter chance that the other parent will respect the fact that you are being real. If they don’t see you as a liar, fake, or putting on a show, they will more easily accept the parent they knew you were because it allows them to be the parent they have always been.
Families function better when children can count on their parents to be who they have known them to be. Trust in the fact that children are smarter than most give them credit for. If the other parent is a louse, they will know that he or she is a louse! If you are taking time with them, only because the court says you are entitled to it, children will grow up understanding that as well.
Respect can be missing from the coparenting relationship. If you do not have respect for the other person, you will only care about your feelings and not theirs. These kinds of relationships may benefit from a parallel or other parent relationship. Much like the coworkers with different work ethics, some distance may be the right thing to do to decrease much of the conflict and frustration that is present when trust, reliability and trust are absent from the equation.
You can read here about what types of treatment make someone not feel <a href="/files/5/1/5/2/0/309915-302515/respected1.pdf”>respected.
About lifesdoorsmediationI am a mediator, Life and Divorce Coach and an Instructor of a High Conflict Divorce Program.
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