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Learning to effectively co-parent

Part 1
Published: 
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How do we presume to get along with folks who just won’t cooperate with us? After a separation, break-up or divorce, sometimes the tidal wave of emotions remain, feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness all just seem to be the driving force behind ineffective co-parenting.

With these unresolved emotions the children get caught in the middle of parents’ conflicts, who are not able to interact amicably or come to an agreement on any subject matter pertaining to the child. This child or children now develop emotional, psychological and psychosocial starvation that often times leads to disturbing behaviours.

Late last year, two-year-old Soriah Martin was killed during an argument between her father, mother and uncle. In a fit of rage the father, a lawman, shot at the child’s uncle striking him in the arm but also fatally shooting his own daughter in the head.

In response to the incident president and founder of Single Father’s Association of T&T, Rondell Feeles expressed there was need for better ways of co-parenting.

But is co-parenting even recognised as a legal and legitimate family structure in T&T whereby there are rules, regulations and guidelines that govern this family type structure? Social worker and human rights activist Alsoona Boswell-Jackson says no. And with an almost steady climb in the divorce rate in T&T from 2005 -2015 totalling 27,950 documented by the Central Statistical Office (CSO), more and more families have moved into the co-parenting family structure. The statistics for 2016-2017 are not yet known.

Effecting successful co-parenting

With this reality how then can effective and successful co-parenting exist?

Boswell-Jackson says co-parenting can be effective or ineffective depending on how the relationship ended or really who is considered to be the guilty party.

In her years of social work and dealing with such actual cases, Boswell-Jackson says two main types of co-parenting are observed they are what is defined as cooperative co-parenting where the both parents are involved in the child’s or children’s lives and their well being and they hardly ever attack each other. Both decided to end the relationship amicably and place the child as the central focus.

The other is the conflictual co-parenting where both parents hardly ever agree on anything concerning the child. They are very argumentative and consistently attack each other, so the co-parenting isn’t effective because it is not about the child but rather the parents.

For this type of parenting Boswell-Jackson says social workers use what they refer to as the strategic problem solving model. She relates it is where the focus is set deliberately on the behavioural issue or matter pertaining to the child; it has nothing to do with both parents. They get the parents to solely focused on the damage their conflict is doing to the child and then ways are introduced to them as well as training on how best they can integrate to help solve the problem that is facing them.

Child divided love for parents

With ineffective co-parenting, Boswell-Jackson says psychologically and emotionally the child will be experiencing much internal confusion, causing them to lash out in various forms.

These forms can take on the role of bullying because their emotional psychological and psychosocial needs are not being met. They are confused, she notes, because of the conflictual parents at times may even try to engage that child in negative discussion about the other parent.

“Now the child loves both parents but they are not really in a position to have positive conversations on either side with either parent so that child is in a toxic environment and that now manifests itself in various behavioural issues,” she reiterates.

When co-parenting is in the cooperative setting Boswell-Jackson says you will find that the child is well balanced and doesn’t chose one parent over the other nor tries to have their own way with one or the other because both parents are on the same page and keep the conversations about the child.

However in a conflictual setting she warns the child could become manipulative and tricky; especially teenagers and young adults who tend to want their own way.

“We have had cases where you may find that they will try to put one parent against the other. And sometimes parents even weigh in on this knowing exactly what the child is doing, to try to get back at each other. It is really a very complicated and dangerous thing, this conflictual co-parenting style,” says Boswell-Jackson.

One party co-parenting

Outside of these two common styles of parenting Boswell-Jackson also points to the “one party effective-co-parent.”

She says this is where you may have one parent, parenting in a healthy way conducive to the holistic well-being of the child and the other parent is doing the opposite, you will find the co-parenting will become ineffective and eventually it will hamper the child’s well-being because the child becomes confused, portraying developmental problems.

“The confusion of having one parent seeming normal while the other isn’t. For example, one parent being stern, while the other is being permissive, this causes the child to gravitate towards the permissive parent more, because he or she feels there is a sense of ‘freedom’ to do his or her own thing, and some parents might be deliberate with this action to score points.

“In order for co-parenting to be really effective, from what I have seen, there is need for a few things; open communication, compromise, sacrifice, empathy and understanding,” Boswell-Jackson advises.

She emphasises parents have to understand from the get go once the relationship is over, that it is about the child and not each other. “If the child is the focus then co-parenting will become easy but sadly that takes a level of maturity that sometimes we do not see in parents,” says Boswell-Jackson.|

n Stay tuned for part two of effective co-parenting with ten questions parents must ask themselves in co-parenting. President and Chief Executive Officer, Clinical Therapist and Clinical Traumatologist at The Centre For Human Development Group of Companies Limited, psychologist Hanif E Benjamin, will guide.

GUIDELINES FOR EFFECTIVE CO-PARENTING

Alsoona Boswell-Jackson outlined some guidelines that can aid in effective co-parenting.
• Rules and boundaries that affect the child should be consistent and agreed upon at the both homes.
• Parents should commit to positive talk about the other parent in the presence of the child.
• Beware of slippery slopes as parents when co-parenting. This is not allowing the child to manipulate either parent to get their own way.
• Do not burden your children about your exes and their problems. Do not tell your child he or she is just like their mother or father. Do not tell your children how many partners you believe their father or mother has.
• Do not use children as weapons to hurt the ex-partner.
• Exercise responsible behaviour in the presence of the child. Do not allow any type of conflict, arguments or fights to take place between you as parents and even at either home.