My Child's Other Parent is "Crazy"
The title of this article is something that many parents say when they do not get along with their co-parent. While it is common to make this type of remark, it is unhealthy for you and your child. Let's be honest, co-parenting can be challenging for many caregivers regardless of their relationship status (e.g., dating, married, divorced, never married, never dated, situationship, etc.). But, finding ways to get along with your co-parent will have lasting effects not only on your overall wellbeing but also on your child's development.
Research tells that co-parent's engagement in negative co-parenting behaviors (e.g., high conflict, undermining, name-calling, and so) during their baby's first year of life, is associated with unfavorable parent-infant interactions and significant household chaos (Whitesell et al., 2015). Furthermore, data of parents who have babies and preschoolers ages 9 months, 2 years, and 4 years of age, found that co-parenting conflict negatively impacted toddler development (Cabrera et al., 2012). Long term co-parenting conflict was associated with lower school readiness in the areas of social-emotional development, social skills, and reading and math skills (Cabrera et al., 2012). This means that what you think of your child's other parent and how you treat them, trickles down to your child. This is because your child is developing their identity. At birth, they are trying to figure out who they in relation to you. Your baby is also trying to figure out who they are in relation to their other parent.
So, if you say negative things about your child's other parent, your child may begin to think poorly of themselves. Having a poor self-view, also known as poor self-image, contributes to how children treat others and can lead to learning challenges.
Why do we do this?
Well, even though you love your child and you want the best for your child, you are still human. You had a full life history before you ever met your child. That full life history stays with you. You have learned strategies to protect yourself from what you have identified as harmful. Sometimes, former partners fall into a harm category because of the relationship that you have or had with them. When this happens, you might think that you are protecting your child from their other parent's behaviors. However, sometimes you may actually be causing your child more harm. The reality is that something your co-parent does or says may be triggering memories for when the two of you were more than co-parents. Their mannerisms could have you thinking about how horribly the relationship ended, how unsupported you felt during the relationship or many other possible reasons. It gets tricky because and you might be completely unaware that it is happening in the moment. Your instinct to protect yourself and your child activates an implicit bias about your co-parent, which is a belief that you hold but you unaware that it is there. Luckily, with thoughtful reflection, and doing things like reading this article, you can begin to unpack the implicit biases that you have about your child's other parent.
Think of your child's self-image - what you say about your co-parent, is the same thing that you child will say about themself
Practice Empathy - try to picture your co-parent as a person with feelings who loves your child
Aim for Collaboration - friendly co-parent relationships support healthy baby and toddler outcomes
Trade Places (perspective taking) - think about the situation through the eyes of your co-parent
These were just a few tips for improving your co-parenting for the sake of your child. Have more ideas? Feel free to leave a comment. Share this with others.
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Cabrera, N. J., Scott, M., Fagan, J., Steward-Streng, N., & Chien, N. (2012). Coparenting and children's school readiness: A mediational model. Family Process, 51(3), 307-24. Retrieved from http://proxyga.wrlc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxyga.wrlc.org/docview/1285243518?accountid=27346
Feinberg, M. E. (2002). Coparenting and the transition to parenthood: A framework for prevention. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 5(3), 173-95. Retrieved from doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxyga.wrlc.org/10.1023/A:1019695015110
McIntosh, J. E., Pruett, M. K., & Kelly, J. B. (2014). Parental separation and overnight care of young children, part II: Putting theory into practice. Family Court Review, 52(2), 256-262. https://doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12088
Whitesell, C. J., Teti, D. M., Crosby, B., & Kim, B. (2015). Household chaos, sociodemographic risk, coparenting, and parent-infant relations during infants' first year.Journal of Family Psychology: JFP: Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 29(2), 211-220.
doi: 10.1037/fam0000063 http://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2015-07273-001