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Joint Custody: 10 Strategies for Co-Parenting with an Uncooperative Ex

During our time as Pastors John and I have heard from people who needed prayer about children and a bad break up and everybody in the situation was hurt. When I came across this article I wanted to share this story from the author to bring insight and practical steps in dealing with this issue. Bridget

Almost six years ago, when the father of my children and I divorced, we agreed to share joint custody of our two children, who were 3 and 6 years old at that time.

During our nine years of marriage, we had never argued about parenting philosophies or values. I saw no sign that parenting after divorce would be any different.

I’ve done the research and created the best-case scenario of how it would be after the divorce. I planned and thought of our children’s events to maintain a consistent set up between the two homes. These are wonderful and healthy ideas, and many co-parents I know have achieved them.

But I forgot to allow for one critical variable in my lovely scenario. I had assumed that my kids’ dad would want to take part in this optimal arrangement.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

After our divorce, he wanted to only talk about scheduling and the exchange of relevant information, such as the results of their dental checkups. There would be no philosophical ‘meeting of the minds’ about parenting. He would parent our children as he saw fit in his time, and was not interested in my opinions or input.

I was horrified to think that our kids were going to be raised in two homes with no overlap. I envisioned co-parenting as a bigger and happier family spread out over two homes. Instead, I faced the reality of parallel parenting. Two separate worlds with no intersection except in a parking lot at exchange time.

That was almost six years ago. My kids have adjusted better than I could ever have imagined. Their worlds have expanded —they have two new stepparents and large extended families. They have stretched their minds and hearts to accommodate the diverse values held by those they dearly love.

They are flexible, open-minded, and think for themselves. They understand the relativity of truth. Like, when my daughter was about four I overheard her tell a playmate, “Well, that might be true for you, but it’s not true for me!” They’ve learned how to discern what works best for them from a variety of options.

They’ve taken the lemons life gave them and made lemonade.

I’m writing this article as an assurance to you who have less than ideal co-parenting situations. There are things you can do in only one home (yours) that can make life better for your kids, and for you.

Here are some of my road-tested tidbits of advice:

1) Be available.

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Save your shopping, errands, etc. for the times when they are not with you. When they first arrive at your house, sit down. My kids usually join me for a snack at the kitchen table for about an hour. Then they unload their stories, complaints, updates, and school projects. Sometimes one of them will sit on my lap, or one will play with my hair.

Be still, and make yourself available for them to physically and emotionally reconnect with you. Give them time to re-calibrate the rhythm of your home before you expect them to jump into chores or homework.

2) Take good care of yourself.

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Get regular exercise. Spend time with a good friend or therapist who can listen without judgment to all your feelings. Write in a journal. Work through your anger and pain. Eat well. Don’t sacrifice your health or sanity thinking it’s noble or necessary for the good of the kids.

Like they say on the airplane about oxygen masks, secure your own lifeline before helping your child. You don’t have much to offer if your own basic needs aren’t being met.

3) Do not judge the other parent within earshot of your children.

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This may sound impossible, but let me assure you, it can be done. Your ex lives forever inside your children’s DNA. If you’re speaking ill of their other parent in any way, your child feels insulted. We may see the distinction and separation, but our children do not. Keep your judgments to yourself until they can understand it well enough.

It is imperative that you accept that there is more than one way to do things. I have a ‘no comment’ policy on what happens at their other house. I don’t ask them why it’s that way, or why their dad said this or did that. I acknowledge their communication in a neutral way and reflect back whatever feelings they might be having. “Hmmm, sounds like you might be feeling disappointed about that situation.” This way the kids can stay in their own experience. Then, move through it without feeling like they need to defend the other parent from your attack.

And prepare ahead of time for when your kids get old enough to become curious about why you got divorced. You’ll need a neutral and nonjudgmental answer. Here’s what I’ve read somewhere, “Get out some pots and lids of various sizes. Show the kids how even when there’s nothing wrong with either the pot or the lid, not all can fit together. “Mommy and Daddy just didn’t fit together in a happy way anymore.”

4) Do not judge your children’s feelings.

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Just listen. One day my son came home and he was angry about something that had happened at his dad’s. I followed my ‘no comment’ policy, not making his feelings right or wrong, but simply reflecting them back to him. Within a few minutes, the storm had passed. He gave a deep sigh of relief, thanked me for listening, and went out to play basketball.
There was no resolution, no problem solving, and nothing had changed in the situation. He just needed the freedom to vent his frustration, and to feel love and acceptance while doing so.
Telling him not to feel that way or refusing to allow him to speak of his father in my home. Make excuses for his father, or jump on the blaming bandwagon with him. These things would have inhibited the clearing of his emotional energy. Just listen.

5) Teach your child to solve his/her own problems.

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To maintain a healthy co-parenting, having a family meeting with all the members to address any problems. For those of us in the adequate but not ideal world of parallel parenting, that’s not an option.
I’ve helped my kids to learn effective communication and problem-solving strategies. Then, we practice them in our home.
I do not intervene in any problems they are having with their other families. After reflecting on their feelings, I encourage them to speak directly to their father. Often, they decide not to.
This is hard for me to watch, but I’ve learned to let them take full responsibility for their actions and choices on their father. My job is to keep my own lines of communication clear and available to them.

6) Buy doubles.

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It’s embarrassing how long it took me to figure this one out. We had far too much stress about boots or snow pants or dress clothes being at the wrong house at the wrong time.
I finally went to Saver’s and Goodwill and spent a few dollars on extra clothing. Now on exchange days, the kids have a choice. They can wear cheap clothes, and do not have to worry about remembering to bring them back. Or they can wear their good clothes, and the prospect of wearing the good ones when they return helps them remember to bring them back. Problem solved!

7) Don’t use your kids as messengers, or ask them to speak for you or their other parent.

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And don’t think you can fool them, either. They know when you are plying them for the scoop on the other parent, no matter how subtle you think you’re being. And they hate it.
Unless you suspect abuse or neglect, what happens at the other home is not your business, so don’t ask for details. Of course, you can listen if the kids want to tell you something, but don’t pry.
Don’t wonder out loud what Dad was thinking when he took them to McDonald’s for both breakfast and lunch. Don’t ask if Mom’s boyfriend went to Water World last weekend, too. If you want to know, ask your ex and leave your child out of it. Kids hate being asked to spy on you. They may feel that giving these answers is a kind of betrayal. They can also be fearful about something that was not under their control.
A little side note here: don’t ask your kids to keep secrets from the other parent. This puts them in a terrible position. If there’s something you don’t want the other parent to know about your life, simply don’t tell the children about it.
Develop a direct channel of communication between the parents. We use email, and before that we use the back door option on voice mail to send each other messages without ringing the phone. Some parents send a communication notebook or folder back and forth in one of the kids’ backpacks.
Just last night my daughter told me her dad wanted to know if I would take her to sports practice that would fall on ‘my day.’ I could see the relief on her face when I said, “Honey, don’t worry about that. I’ll talk to your Dad about it and we’ll work it out.”

8) Don’t speak for the other parent.

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Sometimes my kids will ask me why Daddy won’t let them spend their allowance the way they want to. Or why he thinks this way or that.
It took me some time not to speak for my ex when I still knew him well enough to have an idea about the reasons why he did things. Now, I honestly have no clue what he’s thinking, so it’s easy to refer them to him for the details.
It’s important that you give the other parent the opportunity and responsibility to speak for themselves with their children. Don’t run interference. Don’t defend or protect the other parent from the true consequences of their actions. Let them explain to your child why they were late, rather than covering for them. The sooner your child faces the reality of who their parent is, the sooner they can get about the business of forgiving them and making whatever adjustments need to be made.

9) Free your children to love both of you without reservation or fear.

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This also applies to any new partners. Do whatever emotional work you need to do so that you are not threatened by your child’s love for your ex or stepparent. This might be the most important tidbit of them all.

Show your child how a candle can share its flame to ignite other fires without losing any of its own light. Love is infinite—it cannot be diminished by sharing it with others. Let your child know that it’s OK for her to love both mommy and daddy, regardless of how they feel about each other. Show that you’re confident that she has so much love inside her that it can never run dry.

10) Be a storehouse of happy family history.

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Your child will love hearing that she was conceived in love, or that Mommy and Daddy were so happy when he was born. Kids with co-parents want to engage in peaceful and warm interactions. My kids hardly ever see both of us in the same place at the same time. They also rarely witness us in an actual interaction.
My daughter was only three when we divorced, and has no memory of her dad and I being happy together. So I gathered some pictures of good times that included various permutations of her family forest, and I hung them in a big collage frame in her room. She beamed, and told me that her favorite was the one of me and her dad holding her when she was a baby.
And when she asks, I tell her stories about her birth, how we loved her so much, and how we would take her on walks around the neighborhood together. Little, everyday kinds of stories, to fill in the blank places in her memory with joy.
That should be enough to give you a good start. Oh, wait, just one more:
On hard days, when you’re tired or frazzled and you slip up, please forgive yourself and just start again. Be gentle with yourself … you’re doing the best you can.


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Strategies for Resolving Conflict with Your Children

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Conflicts between parents and children have gone on since time began. As a child starts to learn how to talk, it seems they have likewise learned how to say ‘no.’ And they often say it often about everything from bedtime to eating their vegetables. What’s even more maddening is when they fight you on things you know they do want, like a trip to the park. It begins to seem as though children exist to be contrary.

Thankfully there’s help available. Below is a list of four strategies that will help you resolve conflicts with your child. What’s even more amazing is that these techniques work well whether you’re dealing with a toddler or a teenager.

  1. Don’t get sucked into the tension of the moment. Conflict with children quickly escalates. One demand becomes another until you’re so wrapped up in the whirlpool that you can no longer think or make a rational decision. At that moment you need to step back and take some time away. Take a deep breath and be calm. It might be time to let someone else watch the kids while you step outside and take a walk.
    Walking away from a conflict with your child is something of an art. The last thing you want is for the child to think you’re not listening to what they have to say. But every argument reaches that point where no one is saying anything new. It’s about here that things start to get personal, and indeed uncomfortable. That is the point of taking a break. But even this takes skill. Excuse yourself quietly. It’s not the time for a dramatic exit. Whatever the case, you’re going to have to let your own emotions steady out before trying to help your child to calm theirs.
  1. Calm down. Clearing your head will help you to be both calmer and more rational. Once you’ve removed yourself from the situation, then take a few minutes for yourself. Breathe deeply. Practice mindfulness or even a lot of prayer until you’re in a better place and able to be in control of yourself. Find that inner peace.

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  1. Become an active listener. When your child is upset about something, before assuming they’re wrong, ask them to explain why they’re upset. Then listen to their answer. Ask questions. Clarify. And then repeat back to them what you thought you heard them say. It might be that they have a legitimate concern. Or it might be they’ve misunderstood the situation completely. Either way, you’re now in a better position to help find a resolution to the situation.
  2. Practice empathy. Realize that there might be something more going on with your child than there appears to be on the surface. That will not only help you to calm down, but also might show you a possible solution, or at least a new way to address your child in a way that’s respectful and more compassionate. Keep in mind that your insights might well show you that the problem is with you.

    Source: Pixabay

  3. Empower your child. Allow them to make some of their own decisions. For example, rather than getting involved in a long fight over what to wear, allow your toddler to choose at least part of their outfit. It’s about learning how to pick your battles, saving the fights for the things that matter.
  4. Reconcile. Try apologizing. Recognize that it does take two people to get into an argument. Apologizing acknowledges the part that you’ve played in the situation and invites your child to do the same. This is a great way to teach your child how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way.
  5. Reconcile. Try apologizing. Recognize that it does take two people to get into an argument. Apologizing acknowledges the part that you’ve played in the situation and invites your child to do the same. This is a great way to teach your child how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way.

    Source: Pixabay

    You don’t have to live in dread of a conflict with your child. Having conflict is inevitable. What you do need is to learn how to take back control when the conflicts happen. How you deal with conflict says a great deal about you as a parent.

    Remember, it’s up to you to decide how you want to react to these situations. Being able to keep your cool in trying situations is an invaluable skill and one well worth cultivating, especially in parenting.

    By staying calm and practicing these steps and you’ll soon find the road back to a peaceful resolution with your child, regardless of their age. And in the process teaching them the invaluable lesson of dealing with conflicts in a healthy way.

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So You Have A Picky Eater?

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If you have a picky eater, mealtime can make you feel like you want to pull your hair out. It is frustrating for parents to watch their child only fiddle with their food at dinner or not even touch it, claiming they “don’t like it.” So what happens? Thirty minutes later guess who is hungry? You guessed it. Your little picky eater.

Jamie’s mother was concerned about Jamie’s lack of interest in food. She stated, “Jamie never wants to eat anything I fix for dinner. What can I do to encourage Jamie to eat the meals that I have prepared?” I came up with the following ten tips for her. You may find them useful as well.

TIP: INVOLVE JAMIE. You can have Jamie help with planning the menu or meal preparation. Kids are less likely to “turn up their nose” at something, they had a hand in.

TIP: PLACE A LIMIT ON JAMIE. Let’s think that Jamie is playing with her food at dinner and not really interested in eating it. Mom says, “Jamie, I will be serving breakfast at 7:00 a.m. try to eat enough to make it to then. You decide how much you will need. Oh! We will be clearing the table in _____ minutes.”

When Jamie comes to you later that evening complaining of being hungry. With an understanding tone, remind her that you will be serving breakfast at 7:00 a.m. as usual. Jamie will most likely be persistent about getting something else to eat. It is important that you follow through with the limit you have placed. Otherwise, Jamie learns that you do not mean what you say and you lose your credibility with her. You may have to tell her several times that you will be “serving breakfast at 7:00” until she realizes that you’re not going to give in.

Jamie: “Mom I’m hungry. Can I have some cookies?”

Mom: “Kids who eat all their dinner are welcome to have a snack after.”

Jamie: “But mom I’m really hungry.”

Mom: “I know Jamie. I would be hungry too if I ate as little as you did for dinner, but don’t worry I will be fixing a big breakfast at 7:00 a.m.”

Jamie: “What? Do you want me to starve?”

Mom: “I’ll be serving breakfast at 7:00 Jamie”

Jamie: “This isn’t fair.”

Mom: “I’ll be serving breakfast at 7:00 Jamie”

Jamie: “Fine!”

TIP: NOTICE THE EXCEPTIONS. Call attention to the times when Jamie eats most of her meals. “Wow! Jamie, you ate everything on your plate. Good job. You should be proud of yourself.” Too often, we only notice the negative aspects of our children’s behavior and that is what we reinforce with our negative attention.

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TIP: CATER TO JAMIE’S DESIRE TO BE “BIG”. “ You won’t like this halibut, Jamie. Usually, adults are the only ones who like halibut.” Guess what may just become Jamie’s new favorite food?

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TIP: PROVIDE VARIOUS CHOICES AROUND MEALTIME. “Would you rather sit by me or by mommy?” “You can eat with a fork or a spoon which would you prefer?” “Do you think you will need more potatoes or is that enough?” “Have as much as you think you will need to make it to dinner.” “Milk or juice?” “Should we eat at 7:00 or 7:30?”

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TIP: BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL. “You know dear, although spaghetti is not my favorite, I will eat it because I know how hard you worked to make it.”

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TIP: EXPOSURE. Encourage Jamie to try a variety of foods early on in her life before she knows anything different. Some children may have never thought eating liver was gross if it hadn’t been for what someone else had set their expectation to be.

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TIP: PROVIDE SOME FLEXIBILITY. Let’s remember there are some foods that certain children can not stomach. If Jamie has a problem with spinach, but it is part of that particular meal, try to have other items. This way she can get her fill up on once everyone has their share. But, this should be the exception rather than the rule.

Try letting Jamie dip her food in sauces, dressings, syrups, and ketchup. It may make them taste better to her.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

TIP: MAKE MEALTIME ENJOYABLE. Try to talk about things other than eating at mealtime. Dinner is a great time to talk to Jamie about how her day went. During breakfast, you can discuss what everyone has planned for the day.

Anyone pitching in to help prepare a meal can teach Jamie an important family value. An added bonus for children is that it can teach them important skills. It can be about thinking skills like timing, measuring, colors, comparisons, counting, and cause and effect.

Be creative in the ways that you dish up Jamie’s food. Mold her mashed potatoes into a volcano. Then, cut her meat or sandwich into bite-sized pieces. Poke toothpicks in them and layout veggies in the shapes of letters or numbers. You can also use a drop or two of food coloring to make it more interesting.

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TIP: LIMIT SNACKING. For children to be hungry enough to eat a meal they usually need to go two or three hours without food. However, it is difficult for children to go from noon to 6:00 p.m. without food. A nutritious snack after school would be fine to get Jamie to dinner, still having her appetite.

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TIP: RECALL PAST SUCCESSES. Think back to the times when Jamie had eaten her meals. What were you doing? Were you placing a lot of emphasis on her need to eat her food? What was she doing? What were you eating? What happened before the meal? These kinds of questions may help you realize some of the things you or Jamie is already doing which assist her in becoming a better eater.

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Six Ideas To Help You Discipline Your Kid

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Got a kid? Love him or her? Of course, you do. So when he or she misbehaves on a consistent basis, what’s the best way to administer discipline?

Well, as you may be aware, there is a wide range of thoughts on this subject. One school of thought teaches hands-off to let the children figure it all out on their own. No punishment or reward systems. Another extreme says that the Singapore model of “canning” people for littering is a good one.

Most of us find ourselves between these two nutty positions. And the word “nutty” is being charitable. If you don’t think so, then stop reading. You’re a lost cause and should find yourself in a nice rubber room so that you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else.

Every child responds to anything in different ways. Some kids have a very high “pain” threshold. They can take whatever penalties you exact as they stubbornly refuse to do what they should do. There are others who can be easily motivated by various token systems.

So how do you find out what method of discipline will work for your kid(s)?

In a word: experiment! Here are six ideas for proceeding.
#1 – Put on your “scientist hat.”Research what’s out there. No author knows your kid better than you do. Many research studies can lead to various strategies for your kids. So knowing what’s been done before is a very good strategy in and of itself.

#2 – Once you know what you can do, you can now start interacting with your kid(s). Learn to differentiate discipline and abuse as we live in a reality wherein two can be seen as the same thing. So be careful as you try different discipline ideas.

Important note: Remember your main goal in doing these ideas. If you want to raise good and intelligent children, be patient to see if one thing applies to your children.

#3 – When you find something that seems to work, don’t think you can finally relax. Don’t confuse short term hits with long term success. Your child may be responding well to your discipline. But when it wears off, your child may very well revert to the old behaviors that you tried to change. The tough phase will last for more than a few weeks. So give things at least 3-6 weeks to see if the changes are enduring.

#4 – Tweak before you make major changes in your efforts. For example, suppose you are rewarding your kid(s) with pizza at the end of the week if they do something right. You assume that they’re responding to novelty rather than the measures themselves. Rather than junking the measures, tweak them a bit to determine if your suspicion is valid. For example, you might vary the food rewards. Say, “Look – if you do good things, you get to pick what we have for Friday dinner.” You might be on the right track and tweaking gives you a chance to really find out.

#5 – If tweaking doesn’t work, then, by all means, try new approaches.

#6 – Finally, be humble enough to know that you might need professional support. This can be in the form of a therapist or counselor. You’ve got to be careful here because these professionals have different competency levels on how to deal with your case. Some would suggest certain drugs as the initial therapeutic intervention for your child. You have the right to be skeptical in such situations. Listen to your own inner voice here. No matter how good the intentions are, many therapists simply get things wrong. If the one you’ve initially selected isn’t right for your child or your family, try another.

There are also organizations that can help you find a decent therapist that you need. America and many other nations are rich in resources to help families. Look into them if your problems grow too intense for you to handle on your own.

Finally, use common sense. It may sound strange but you’ll be the only one to make the final decision. Regardless of any professional help, books, or online forums that you encounter, you’ll be responsible for your child. Use the best intelligence you can and proceed with caution.

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