Addiction and divorce can both cause confusion and conflict in the lives of children. Rosalind Sedacca has insights that can help. The Changing Behavior Network presents, “Co-Parenting with an Addict After Divorce: Developing the Right Mindset.”
Getting divorced and exploring the realities of co-parenting ahead? Life after divorce can be enormously complex; it’s especially challenging for parents who are coping with addiction issues and their consequences.
Cooperative co-parenting is always best for your children. It is easier for them to accept life after divorce when they have access, love and attention from both parents. Post-divorce co-parenting with an addict makes this process more complicated, especially if one parent is not fully dependable, trustworthy or responsible.
Common Parental Issues Following Divorce
Difficulties can be compounded by the many issues all parents face following a divorce:
• Both parents are bringing the raw emotions resulting from the divorce into a new stage in their lives.
• Mom and Dad are also bringing previous baggage from the marriage (ongoing conflicts, major disputes, differing styles of communication, unresolved issues and continual frustrations) into the mix as they negotiate a co-parenting plan.
• Both parents are vying for the respect and love of the children, They are easily tempted to slant their parenting decisions in the direction that wins them popularity with the kids.
• Anger and resentment resulting from the divorce settlement can impact and influence levels of cooperation in the months and years to come.
• Parents may disagree about major issues ahead that weren’t part of the parenting dynamic in the past: visits and sleepovers with friends, scheduling after-school activities, handling curfews, new behavior problems, consequences for smoking, drinking and drug use, dating parameters, using the car, and scheduling vacation time.
• Parents may not share values and visions for the children as they grow, and they may also not agree on the plan of action required to honor those values.
When challenges appear, parents might find themselves struggling to find ways of coping. Agreement on how to co-parent effectively in the present and the future is not a one-time discussion. It takes on-going communication, both verbal and written, as well as regular connections via phone, email or in person. It also takes a commitment to make co-parenting work because you both want it to.
The consequences, when it doesn’t work, can be considerable. Your children are very likely to exploit any lack of parental agreement or unity, pitting Mom and Dad against one another while they eagerly take advantage of the situation. This is a danger sign that can result in major family turmoil fueled by behavior problems that neither parent is prepared to handle.
Addiction: Another Layer of Confusion
Addiction problems bring another layer of confusion. The addicted parent may not be granted shared custody and may have limited visitation. I encourage these parents to take advantage of video chats, emails, texting and other options today’s technology offers to support close parent-child connection.
It is essential that both parents always keep their promises and show up on time. Disappointments deeply hurt children. They will lose their trust and respect for a parent, which is hard to earn back. Don’t make agreements you can’t live up to. And never show up intoxicated or unprepared to parent, but be fully focused on your children and their needs.
When Mom and Dad are on the same page, they can parent as a team regardless of how far apart they live. These parents agree about behavioral rules, consequences, schedules and shared intentions regarding their children. They discuss areas of disagreement and find solutions they can both live with, or agree to disagree and not make those differences an area of contention.
If meals with Mom are vastly different than food offerings during time with Dad, that can still work if both parents respect the differences and let the children know it’s all okay. When differences become an area of high conflict, that’s when the kids can get hurt, being caught between battling parental egos. Children are confused and often feel guilty in battling parent situations, which rarely leads to any good within the post-divorce family structure.
Get professional support to guide you if you’re uncomfortable when the kids are with your co-parent. Discuss your options objectively. Sometimes we’re so caught up in past situations we can’t create workable solutions for co-parenting success without the assistance of a divorce mediator, therapist or mentor experienced with addiction and its challenges.
Keep in mind that when you’re more open and receptive to your co-parent, you are more likely to get what you really want in the end. Good listening skills, flexibility and the commitment to do what’s best on behalf of your children are part of a smart co-parenting mindset. Remember that co-parenting will be a life-long process for the two of you. Why not do it in a way that will garner your children’s respect and appreciation? They will thank you when they are grown adults. ###
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Parenting Coach/Mentor and Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. She’s author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? and co-host of The Divorce View Talk Show and podcast. For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right, her mentoring services and other valuable resources on mastering child-centered divorce, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.