by Meredith Jacobs
After repeating the same lessons over and over again to divorced couples trying to co-parent, Dr. Edward Farber, licensed clinical psychologist in Virginia and Maryland, and founder of the Reston Psychological Center and Reston Family Center, decided to write them down. The result is the newly published Raising the kid you love with the ex you hate (Greenleaf), a commonsense, no-nonsense, must-read guide to successful co-parenting during and after divorce.
WJW: I always hear from friends who are divorcing, “It’s going to be very amicable,” but then it always seems to turn ugly. What happens?
Farber: There are several stages. The first is an initial shock. Every hope you had for the future is rapidly shattered. There is a feeling of total loss. The second is anger. You need to find fault. Behaviors you minimized in the past become very important. “He is never home on time,” when you’re married becomes now, if he’s five minutes late, we go to court. Everyone goes through the process.
But you loved this person, you had babies with this person. After the hatred, can you get to the point where it’s apathy, where the only thing that binds you is a child.
This is where it becomes a business arrangement to raise a child.
WJW: What happens when, for example, the mother feels like it would be better for the child to only be raised by her?
Farber: It’s necessary for kids to grow up with both parents. And we must remember that the weaker parent can grow. Parenting can be different, that doesn’t make it bad.
Everyone has to change a bit. Just because he eats out at restaurants for every meal is not a big deal. If she has different bedtimes for the kids, that doesn’t make her the better parent. No child comes in traumatized because of bedtime. Children come in traumatized by the fighting.
You have to look at your child. There is real pain in children following separation and divorce. We see it manifest academically, behaviorally, physically.
We can prevent the hurt from continuing past the initial 1 to 3 years. But to do that, the child has to have a relationship with both parents.
You have to be able to say, the true payoff for my child is to have a relationship with my ex.
There is long-term evidence that there is a sleeper effect. A child may seem to bounce back after a year or two, but a substantial minority, once they get into their first serious relationship, fall apart.
WJW: Who are those kids? How can we help our kids be okay?
Farber: There are three factors that separate those who don’t fall apart:
1. They had a relationship with both parents after separation and divorce.
2. The amount of conflict post-separation and divorce was less. When the parents fought when they were married, the children understand why they divorced. But, if they continue to fight after they divorced, if they fight every time there is a transition from one parent to the other, the child begins to think the fighting is about her — that she is the cause.
3. The child’s perception that his parents are still acting as parents at critical points of his life. For example, when the science fair is on Tuesday night, it doesn’t matter whose night it is, both parents are there. When the teen sneaks out, both parents read her the riot act. And when applying for college, both parents sit down with their child and are involved in the process.
The child needs to think, “I know they divorced but they were still my parents and when things came up, they were my parents.”
WJW: What if one of the parents doesn’t want to go into counseling for co-parenting?
Farber: Think about all the things we pay for — coaches, tutors. Your child is not going to be a master pianist. But, if you want your child to be healthy, you need to get to the point where you can think, “I may hate your guts, but we’re in this for the kids.” It’s hard to get there, but you’ll see it in the impact and effect on your child.
WJW: What if one parent reads your book and wants to create a healthier dynamic, but the other doesn’t?
Farber: You can say, “I’ll respond to anything about the children’s growth and activities, but I won’t respond to anything nasty.” It’s just like when a child has a temper tantrum, when you stop paying attention to the tantrums, they stop. If you stop responding to the nasty emails, I guarantee at some point those nasty emails will stop. They may shift focus, but that, too, can be changed.
Your behavior can be controlled. You model to your child how to solve problems.
WJW: At what point is the damage too much?
Farber: You damage the basic trust of the child. Divorce breaks that trust. Children believe that mommy and daddy will always be there for me. When they go to school, their parents will still be home for them. They feel safe and secure. Divorce shatters that.
But trust can be rebuilt. The child can learn that there are two safe households, that both parents respect decisions of each other.
Know that your child picks up on the subtle messages. When your child leaves to stay with your ex, if you say, “Be careful” or “Call me if there is a problem” or “If Dad is running late to get you to practice, you can call me, I’ll be waiting,” you are sending the message that the other parent is incompetent and only I have your best interest in mind.
WJW: What should the child see?
Farber: I call it mailman-like behavior. Talk to each other the way you would to your mail carrier. At the soccer game, don’t greet each other with “Where’s the support check?” Those battles are to be fought on the battleground away from your child. The sports field is for scoring goals, not scoring points against the other parent. Say instead, “the team looks great” or “the weather’s nice.”
You child should not worry which parent to look at from the field.
Raising the kid you love with the ex you hate is available at local bookstores and at Amazon.com. For more information go to raisingthekidyoulove.com or facebook.com/raisingthekidyoulovewiththeexyouhate