Having Kids When You Didn’t Put a Ring on It

Having Kids When You Didn’t Put a Ring on It

Whether you and your co-parent decided not to marry, or you married and then divorced, you can’t deny the impact your separation will have on your children. Children from single-parent or split households experience vastly different upbringings from children from two-parent households. That doesn’t necessarily mean their upbringing has to be a bad situation with regrettable outcomes. Divorced or separated co-parents can still work together to ensure a happy, healthy home, lifestyle, and upbringing for their children.

Legitimize Your Children’s Emotions

Your first step in co-parenting is to acknowledge that your children have an equal role in the family relationship, rather than relegating them to objects to be used against each other or obedient thralls expected to go along with your decisions. Your choices regarding your relationship affect your children, and by a certain age, perhaps 15 or older, their input may be beneficial.

Don’t dismiss what they’re feeling. Legitimize their emotions by setting aside time to listen to them. Now is not the time to correct them or deny their feelings, particularly immediately after a split. Listen and validate their emotions to help minimize any ill-feelings; that is, make them feel heard.

Don’t Play “Good Cop, Bad Cop”

If one parent is usually permissive and the other is typically stern, it’s easy to create a “good cop, bad cop” dynamic. This dynamic can make it extremely hard for one or both parents to maintain stability in the home. Making decisions together and then supporting each other’s decisions as a united front can reduce the problems of one parent being good and the other parent being bad in the children’s eyes.

Don’t Compete

While “good cop, bad cop” tends to arise accidentally from different parenting styles, competition is something you create intentionally whether you acknowledge the intent or not. The desire to compensate for any anger, sadness or the like left after a split can lead to using your children for validation by competing against the other parent for your children’s love. This kind of behavior can be extremely damaging and create an unhealthy environment.

Have a Plan and Stick to It

Whether you’ll be cohabitating or splitting households, one part of co-parenting as unmarried parents is planning. Both you and your children need consistency to make the complications of co-parenting work. A written and well-crafted plan also helps mitigate any arguments or misunderstandings about shared responsibilities, reducing conflict for all involved.

For more information on talking to your children,  read our guidelines on speaking to children about divorce.

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