Most of the parents I work with feel that they are failing as a parent. This makes it challenging to hear feedback about their parenting because they are already primed in their heads to think that they are just a terrible parent! Therefore, anyone who is asking for support and help deserves respect just for taking such a difficult leap. I believe that it is very brave to talk to a professional about any areas you feel you are having challenges in, particularly parenting. Though parent consultation can be a very vulnerable process, it can also be very rewarding when you work with a therapist who helps you change your parenting style to improve your family situation.
The following tips are strategies and suggestions to help parents who are entering into parent consultation gain as much as possible from the experience.
- Listen and Reflect: Try to just hear what the other person is trying to communicate to you, without defensiveness or instant judgment (of yourself or anyone else). Be curious about what they are saying by asking yourself some key questions: Could what they are saying be true? Could it be helpful to try doing something different? Is what you are doing working? Do they truly seem to understand your situation and have experience or expertise that makes it likely they can help?
- Express Yourself: In parenting work with individuals and couples, it is SO important that you share your opinions and beliefs. I always tell my clients, if you do not agree, say so and let’s figure out another way to do things! There are usually a lot of solutions to help families/parents and the process of working on parenting can be very collaborative and rewarding if you are able to express your thoughts and feelings.
- Be Patient: The issues that led to you seeking parenting help did not come up overnight (typically) and they will take some time to resolve. Unfortunately, there are not many quick fixes for parenting and discipline issues and it takes time to set up new patterns in a family.
- Focus on What You Can Change: Basically, there are some things that are impossible (or really difficult) to change such as basic personality traits and the mismatch of personalities that sometimes happens within a family. However, there are a whole host of things that you can try to work on such as communication style, coping skills, structure of the family life, etc. This is good news because it means that there are changes you can make that will likely benefit your family! Focus on the outcome of the changes (that it might make things better) rather than on the fact that you feel you were doing everything “wrong” before. Kids do not come with instruction manuals so it is impossible to know what the “right” things are all the time.
- Go Easy on Yourself: Parents are extraordinarily hard on themselves about parenting. Again, kids do not come with a manual and NO ONE always knows that they are doing the “right” things as a parent. This is an area that automatically brings up insecurities so try your best to focus on the fact that you are trying. Some days that’s all you can do!
The above tips will hopefully help you to engage in the parent consultation process and can make it a little less challenging.
Now let’s move onto some co-parenting tips. Remember these apply to any people raising children together (married, divorced, remarried, etc.) though some apply more to high conflict marriages or divorce.
- Talk to your child positively about the other people involved in your family. Try to avoid negativity about the other people involved with your child – this can even include professionals such as teachers, schools, tutors, and coaches. This will help provide a unified front to your child which is really important to reduce their ability to play different parents (or parents and teachers, schools, coaches) against each other (which by the way almost all children try to do!).
- Try to be consistent. Please notice I said try. No one is able to be consistent 100% of the time because that is not really human, that is more like robots! Just try to be consistent in that if you make a promise, try to keep it. Your child needs to know you keep your word and that they can rely on what you say. Also, try to be consistent with the other parents involved – the more you can have unified expectations, values, and consequences the easier everything will be particularly if the child transitions between homes.
- Be mindful of what your current struggles are and your motives in sharing information with your child. For example, if you are struggling with divorce or even just arguments with your significant other, please try not to bring your child into the middle, ask them to choose parents, speak to them about the other negatively, or over share about the situation. This one is really hard in high conflict divorce situations where you may feel misrepresented by the other parent. However you view the situation, please shelter your child from the ugliness that sometimes happens between adults. I often hear from parents that they want to be “honest” about everything that happened and while I understand that, remember that honesty about affairs and other marital issues does not benefit the children. The motive for most people when sharing this type of information is selfish in nature.
- Do not assign fault to the divorce or the arguments. Venting should not happen with your child but with your friends or other supports in your life. It helps to assist your child in seeing that arguments and difficulties in relationships are the responsibility of both people involved rather than making the other parent(s) out to be the bad guys. This will help your child to take accountability for their part in relationship challenges also. Never divulge information the child does not need to know and that will damage their relationship with the other people involved in their lives.
- Avoid arguments in front of your child. Again, this goes for couples who are still married or those who are divorced. Research shows that conflict predicts negative outcomes for children, regardless of marital status. Additionally, many of the children I work with express concerns that if their parents argue, they will get divorced. If you are having a hard time delaying arguments until the child is not around, please seek out professional help to help you with your communication patterns and relationship.
- Listen to your child. This is so important in any family. Particularly if your family is going through a transition, separation, or divorce you need to give your child time and space to share with you what they think and how they feel about the situation. While this does not mean you have to “fix” everything they are concerned about, you can still be there for them to validate their feelings and let them know you are there for them. For example, it is okay as a parent to hear your child’s disappointment that you and their father are fighting often and say, “I know that must be hard for you. It sounds like you feel scared when we fight and we can both try our best to work on not fighting as much.” But it’s also okay to tell them, “I know that you want mom and dad to get back together, that makes sense that you want that but I just don’t think that is going to happen right now. I know it’s hard, it’s hard on us too but eventually we will get used to this. No matter what though, I will always love you and be here for you.”
Those are some of my basic co-parenting suggestions for situations that come up most often in my practice. Please feel free to add your own to my list! Just remember, no one has parenting all figured out but the most important thing is that you are trying your best with the information you have!
Thanks for reading!