Can Single Moms Co-Parent With An Ex They Are Not on Speaking Terms With?
By Melissa Chapman
If you’re a single mom faced with this situation, take comfort in the fact that you are absolutely not alone! While there are some exceptions to the rule, like divorced buddies; celebrity exes Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, most divorces are long, tough processes. But when kids are factored into the equation, it can be even more challenging. Instead of breaking up and never crossing paths again, you still need to see this person and deal with him on a regular basis because of your kids. However, even though you may harbor resentment towards your ex, it’s important that you put aside your own feelings and develop co-parenting plans for the welfare of your kids.
“If there is screaming and yelling going on in front of the kids, it desensitizes them to that kind of behavior and makes it more acceptable in their own future relationships,” says psychotherapist James E. Walton, Ph.D. “It also teaches them that it is an acceptable way of communicating, which it is not.”
According to Dr. Walton, how a single Mom conducts her relationship with her ex becomes an example for her child and essentially lays the foundation for how her child will manage her future relationships.
“If a single Mom starts blaming, attacking and putting down her ex, for whatever reason, her male children may begin to feel that Mom secretly feels the same way about them even if it is obviously not true,” says Dr. Walton. “And if Mom attacks her ex in front of her daughters, they may come to expect that those accusations are true of all males and then accept the same behavior in their own future relationships.”
In both cases, a single Mom’s negative behavior towards her ex can ultimately affect her children’s self image and self esteem. They may feel that they are responsible for their parents’ issues and begin to sow deeply held feelings of guilt, shame and fear that they will carry with them the rest of their lives.
“It is also much more difficult to fix a child’s damaged perspective than it is to make the effort to protect her from the damage in the first place,” says Dr. Walton. “If you think about how your behavior is truly going to affect your kids, you may be more motivated to do something about it.”
Walton offers this advice for single Mom’s when it involves any communication with their ex:
Keep your conversations limited to the welfare of your children and financial issues.
When a single mom is dealing with her ex, she should be cordial but not discuss her feelings with him. She needs to constantly remind herself that she is in the process of detaching from him and has to come to terms with the reality of the situation. If she talks to him about her feelings, she could cause herself a lot more pain and drag out feelings of loss and abandonment. It’s not pleasant, but it makes recovery faster and more thorough.
Before you say something negative about your ex, take a deep breath.
If a single Mom is angry at her ex, it can be helpful to count backwards from five and take a deep breath and exhale with each count to calm herself down. As she is doing so, she needs to contemplate that she is here to take care of the children and that the children are not here to take care of her. She needs to remember that their mental health is her priority and to be cognizant about not transferring her anxiety about her ex to them.
No arguing in front of the kids, Period!
“No attacking, putting down, or insulting gestures or words about the ex in front of your kids,” says Dr. Walton. “And never send messages through your children to your ex.”
Try to be a united front with your ex when it concerns your children.
Never contradict your ex in front of your kids. If you and your ex are not a united front, your children will sense this and will work you against each other to their advantage.
Do your best to put on a brave strong face for your kids.
“Single Moms need to demonstrate a strength that the kids will adopt for their own lives,” says Dr. Walton. “It may be difficult task, but do not saddle your children with the adult worries and fears you may be going through. Allow your children to be children.”
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For more of Dr. James E. Walton’s tips on managing relationships check out www.latherapist.com.