Introduction. In Blog 1 of this Series, Getting Perspective on Your Co-Parenting Relationship, we introduced both the importance of and the challenges to getting a broader perspective on a healthy co-parenting relationship. We hope we were clear on the benefits of doing so. We encouraged you to be curious and be willing to change your perspective as you look at your situation from the different angles of other’s perspectives.
In Blog #2, we pointed out that getting an objective perspective involves the use of imagination and getting more information from others. First, we imagine what another person’s perspective is, though knowing we might be wrong. When we get more information from the other person, we have a chance to correct our mistake and still use imagination to understand.
In this Blog, we begin the process of understanding your children’s perspective, still using imagination. We do this in two steps.
- First, we ask you to imagine that your children are grown, perhaps twenty-five years-old. Someone asks them what it was like growing up in their family, with separated parents. What would your children say? Really go into detail. What were holidays like? What were the positives? What was their parents’ relationship like? What was it like going back and forth between two homes? What was their relationship with their mother like? With their father? What were the negatives? What do they wish had been different? Use your imagination to try to understand your children’s perspective as adults looking back. Focus on how the family is functioning at this point, especially the relationship between their parents, and imagine that it will continue.
- Second, we ask you to imagine the same situation, that is, that someone has asked your grown children what it was like to grow in in your family with separated parents. However, this time, we want you to imagine not what your children would say, but what you would like them to say in answering those identical questions, meaning what you wish they would say. We want to add one more question. Imagine that your co-parent does not change his or her behavior. What would you like your grown children to say about how you handled that?
Books and articles have been written about this: both young children and adult children with separated parents have been asked these questions.
The range of responses when children are asked as adults to look back at their childhood matched the level of conflict between parents.
In high conflict co-parenting relationships, children describe their family experience very negatively. Some comments go as far as wishing they had never been born or saying things like, “I am never going to have children.” Children did not say things like, “I really liked the way my mom stood up to my dad.” They say things like, “I hated the way my parents talked to each other.” They also say things like, “My dad was great. No matter what my mom did, he was very respectful and never let us say bad things about her.”
Children are much more perceptive than we sometimes think.
In one study, for example, a number of children said that their parents did not tell them much about what was going on or what was going to happen. They hated not knowing about the surprises that came their way.
Now, compare what your children will likely say, if nothing changes in the way you and the other parent relate to one another, with what you would like them to say. The point of this exercise is to recognize (1) that your children’s perspective is likely different from either parent’s perspective and (2) that even one parent can help shape their perspectives in a positive direction. In the many years of interviewing children with separated parents, we have repeatedly been made aware that children are watching their parents, paying attention, understand what is going on and are deeply affected by their parents’ relationship. As one boy told a judge in Wisconsin, “I know two people who would have been a lot happier if I wasn’t here.”
Homework- Stop, Look and Listen!: Watch your children as closely as they watch you. What are they like when both parents are in the same place at the same time? How freely do they interact with the other parent when they are with you? Do they call you when they are at the other parent’s home, and do they call the other parent when they are with you? How do they act if the other parent calls them? Do your children ever ask to change the schedule, even a little bit and even just one time? Do they tell you that they miss the other parent?
This is the first step in getting the perspective of your children-keep your eyes and ears open.
In Blog 4 in this Series, we will begin to get the perspectives of the people on the list that you made after Blog #1. To prepare for that, pick three or four people on that list that you think have enough information to have a pretty good perspective on what your family is like. This is a critical step in the process!
Alert: What you imagine your children, when adults, would say and what you would like them to say, gives you have a roadmap of what you and your CPP need to do to be successful.