1. How does the quality of one’s relationship with their ex-spouse influence the psychological adjustment of their children?
Regardless of whether children grow up in one home or two, parents provide a model for conducting important relationships. Part of every important relationship is mutual respect, civilized interaction, problem solving and conflict resolution, compromise, appreciation and gratitude, patience and forgiveness. When parents model angry, selfish and bitter interaction with one another, their children learn that these disrespectful behaviors are the protocol for how people should be treated. It is no wonder that children from high conflict divorce have a higher incidence of failed relationships later in life. I believe this is why.
2. You write, “Smart parenting is all about trading the momentary relief of venting anger and frustration at your co-parent for the benefit of raising healthier, more productive, and less stressed children.” How can a parent deal with their anger in a healthy way that does not cause more pain to their children?
Break a clay pot, scream into a pillow, make a voodoo doll out of modeling clay. Do what ever you want (as long as it is legal and outside of your children’s presence) but do not expose your children to toxic emotion. Oh yes, and read my book.
3. How can a person de-escalate the conflict between themselves and their ex-spouse?
It takes two people to fight. The key to de-scalation is ignoring insult and offering reasonable compromises. This takes practice because often, in poor co-parenting relationships people cannot resist the urge to fight fire with fire. Actually to continue the imagery, it is best to fight fire with water. Parents often ask, “Why shoud I give the co-parent what he/she wants?” The answer to this is “because when you can, and when it doesn’t much matter one way or the other (i.e. an extra few minutes here and there) the reduction in conflict benefits the kids.”
4. What is the “package” that can make a difference in the quality of communication between the ex-spouses?
Resist the urge to “dig” or “poke” with sarcasm and direct insults. Understand that if you hate the co-parent, it is more difficult to love the part of your child that came from the co-parent. Take relief in the fact that any communication you have with the co-parent has a beginning and an end (at least for the moment) and when the contact is over you don’t have to go back home and sleep with them.
5. Can you share with us some practical tips for negotiating with a former spouse who is a jerk?
Again, realize that giving in on minor issues is not a sign of personal weakness; on the contrary it is s sign of strength. Understand that what makes people as difficult as they are is that they “enjoy the fight.” Fighting, bickering and nitpicking is feeding a part of them that they enjoy — and that most likely you do not.
6. What are some ways to request something from a difficult ex-spouse that might elicit a positive response? What are some phrases that should never be said when making a request?
Of course, always say “please” and “thank you.” Don’t juxtapose your request with something that you think the co-parent “owes you.” Talk about the benefit you think your child(ren) will receive. Offer something in return. For example, “I am writing to ask if you would consider permitting me to take Billy to see Hamsters on Ice next Saturday. I just got tickets and he has been talking about it for months. I would be more than happy to swap one of my Saturdays for the opportunity. Thanks.”
7. What are some ways to interact effectively with court-appointed officials?
Bite your tongue. Hide your frustration. Be polite and respectful. Smile. Do not treat them as you might a waiter who just brought you a bad plate of food. (Don’t even treat waiters who bring you bad food poorly). Court professionals talk, point, and “spread the word” about difficult people.
8. What are some things to never do in front of a judge?
Don’t slouch. Don’t mumble. Don’t wisecrack. Don’t try to sound like a lawyer. Don’t come to court looking like you are going to either a prom or a monster truck rally.
9. What are some ways to include a positive message when telling a child about the divorce?
Children want to know that they are not going to be abandoned. It is important to say that “Mom and Dad are going to try very hard to make sure that you will always be a very important part of both of our lives.”
10. What are some tips for keeping the co-parenting relationship healthy and on track?
Be flexible. Follow the Golden Rule (respond to the co-parent the way you would like to be responded to) . Do not nitpick. Be nice. Don’t assume that the co-parent always has a hidden agenda. Never say anything about the co-parent that you would not want your child to repeat directly to him/her.
11. What tips do you have for parents who cannot agree on a set of rules, and tend to have very different rules in their homes?
Reinforce your set of rules in your home. Do not compare the two sets of rules to your kids with an implication that one rule is better or worse. If you need to, say, “I’m sorry if you like the rule about (talk about the rule here as in “bedtime” or “television” or “cell phones” etc.) at (“Mom”) or (“Dad’s”) house. When you are here, this is the rule.