I am currently at the National Council on Family Relationship 2017 conference (11/16). Today, I attended a session about changes in the family system.
The changes in the family system are either adding the members or losing the members. The focus of the session I attended was divorce. For any children who are minor, it means that you either lose a father or mother in your residence. After the divorce, if the parents are remarried, a child gains a stepparent in the family system.
There were four papers presented, discussing the factors influencing co-parenting decisions, the impact on the children’s development, and the mental health issues due to the divorce.
The ideas of “gatekeeping,” “gender role,” “divorce” and “mental health” comes to my mind. In this entry, I am going to focus on the divorce and co-parenting first. Here are some takeaway points:
1. Gatekeeping roles and its impact on the co-parenting relationship
“Gatekeeping” keeps popping up throughout the conference. In the first day of the conference, there was a discussion of who is the gatekeeper. Traditionally, a mother is the gatekeeper, especially when the children are young. However, is that true? Can father also be a gatekeeper?
Establishing the co-parenting relationship is one of the most important tasks for the couples who start the family. We know that new parents experience a lot of stress not only because of the demands from the babies but also their adjustment to the parenthood.
So, if the mother is the gatekeeper, how is that going to impact the couple relationship?
And, how about the father’s voice in the co-parenting process? An interesting finding from the presentations this morning was that: your perception about your former spouse’ parenting role and relationship with your children have a significant impact on your decision as to how much to involve him/her in your post-divorce co-parenting role.
The other research also pointed out that a divorcee’s perception about his/her former spouse’ new partner also has the impact on your co-parenting decision-making process.
So, for all the couples who are currently married, in a conflicted relationship, in the process of divorce, and/or have gone through a divorce, it is important to remember this: couple relationship and parenting relationship are two different domains.
If you are still married, please do not forget to spend the time to invest in your couple relationship. During the child-rearing stage, it is easier to put the couple’s needs and connection at the bottom of your priority. If you think you are investing in the couple relationship because you are getting along as co-parent, that is not necessarily the case.
Even when you have conflicts with your spouse, you still need to invest time with your children. Don’t give up your relationship with your children just because you don’t think you can “win” the argument with your spouse on the parenting issues. When your children respect you and have a good relationship with you, it might not change your couple relationship but certainly, benefit your co-parenting relationship, in the long run, no matter you stay together or not.
2. We need to expand the co-parenting ideas to include the current partners. As the research result showed, “if I like my former spouse’ current partner, I am more willing to let my children spend more time there.” Furthermore, when any one of us is stepping into a blended and/or stepfamily, we need to be very mindful to acknowledge the former or the new partner’s parenting perspective in the current relationship and its impact on the children.
If you are in Massachusetts, you can check out my interview with Attorney Joseph Ingalow, Esq. about the divorce process in Massachusetts.
(To Be Continued.)