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Parenting with an ex

March 30, 2000

Some suggested reading for parents raising children in a split family:

"Vicki Lansky's Divorce Book for Parents" by Vicki Lansky

"Families Apart - Ten Keys to Successful Co-Parenting," by Melinda Blau

"Parents are Forever," Shirley Thomas

"Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families," by Marc Tolon Brown and Laurene Krasny Brown

"Fathering : Strengthening Connection With Your Children No Matter Where You Are," by Will Glennon

By MEG H. PARTINGTON / Staff Writer

When the partners in a parenting couple decide they can't live together anymore, there is one very important thing they still have to share - responsibility for the lives of their children.

"I firmly believe the interests of their children should be paramount," says Eddie Painter, program coordinator for Young Fathers/Supportive Parents in Washington County. If that means swallowing some pride, do it, he says.

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The first step for the adults is to work through their feelings of anger, sadness and loss of identity as part of a couple.

"Parents don't understand their own feelings and what they're going through," says Risa Garon, executive director and co-founder of The Children of Separation and Divorce Center Inc. in Columbia, Md.

Those who do not deal with their negative feelings may take them out inappropriately on the child or other parent, Garon says.

"Keep it separate from the children," says Susan P. Bartlett, training director for Kids in the Middle, an agency in St. Louis that helps split families work through the process of raising children.

While children should be protected from the nastiness that often accompanies a breakup, they do need to understand what's happening.

Donna Maciorowski, director of the Parent Education and Mediation Program in Martinsburg, W.Va., suggests parents talk openly and gently with their children, possibly reading them a book about divorce that is appropriate for their age.

"Children suffer through a very stressful time but they don't have to become dysfunctional or unhealthy," Garon says.

She says psychologists, clergy or family centers can help children deal with their parents' divorce or separation.

Easing into change

There are several ways to ease the transition from having both mother and father at home to having only one parent there.

Don't put the other parent down in the presence of the child.

"Just because you don't like the parent anymore doesn't mean the child doesn't," Painter says.

Instead, treat your former spouse or partner with the same respect you would offer a business partner, Garon says.

Set a specific time away from the children to discuss their needs. That could mean leaving them with a baby sitter and meeting somewhere or calling each other when the children are not home or are asleep. Make a list of things to discuss and stick with it - topics may include school, your child's friends, problems he or she has been having, behavioral changes or updates on doctor visits and medications.

Parents shouldn't use their child as a go-between or messenger, Painter says.

"That puts the child in an awkward situation," Painter says.

Parents should avoid being lenient about old rules regarding homework or bedtime in an attempt to ease their guilt or to compete for a child's affection by being the less strict parent, Garon says.

Instead of working against each other, Garon suggests parents use their strong points to function as a team. If the father is better at academics, he can help the child with homework, while the mother could use her social or organizational skills to deal with teachers or establish structure in the young person's life.

Being there




While it is important for the noncustodial parent to provide financial support, "the emotional support is just as important," Painter says.

That means devoting time to the child and being present at important events.

There are functions that both parents should attend for their child's sake, including school plays or concerts, sporting events and weddings, Bartlett says.

Good communication is vital to remind children that while their parents may be attending the same event, they are not rekindling.

"They just have to be open and honest," Bartlett says.

Moms and dads also need to be flexible with their schedules, renegotiating as they and their children change.

Most importantly, parents need to be motivated to make the situation work.

Ultimately, the best situation for children is to have a healthy relationship with both parents, Bartlett says.

"A lot of parents can work this out with a few tips," Bartlett says. "The bottom line is it's not going to be perfect."

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