As of the last Census 21 million children or roughly a third live in households where the biological mother and father are not together. This includes remarriages after divorce, couples living together and single moms and dads who may or may not be dating.
Co-parenting is the process by which parents for whatever reason have chosen not to live together and the child is now split between two households. In that, every effort is made to lessen the impact of the separation, shield the child from the emotions of divorce and strive to establish a new relationship with the other parent that is supportive of the child’s needs rather than a source of negative stress.
Enter into the picture the new girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband. Living in the same household, these new people to the family will naturally form bonds with the children. But are there limitations to that relationship? Many times the new person in the family if they have no children of their own feel an overwhelming desire to become the parent. This leads to confusion and stress for the child.
1. Should the non-parent be critical of the parenting skills of the opposing parent?
2. Should the non-parent openly criticize the opposing parent in front of the child?
3. Should the non parent refer to themselves as the “New Mom” or “New Dad” to the child?
4. Should the non-parent take an active role in such moments like visitation exchanges or discussions of religion, education or health care?
By and large the answer to these questions is no. the non-parent while supportive of their partner should take a backseat to the primary roles of Mom and Dad. The Japanese have a phrase, “The Honorable Unseen One”. This is even more critical in situations where the parents are not on good terms with each other or even openly hostile. In such cases it’s the biological parent who must look within themselves to resolve their personal issues in a manner that does not impact the child. While Mom and Dad aren’t talking to each other there are times when the child must be discussed. Non-parents should not take on this role. “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” In a more direct sense, “Too many voices confuse the child.”
So what should a non-parent do?
1. Respect the rights and responsibilities of the of both parents.
2. Establish a relationship with the child that is independent of the parenting role. “I’m not your Dad but I Love you very much.”
3. Take a backseat during visitation exchanges and times of discussion. Literally. Stay in the car or another room of the home. This is especially critical in situations where infidelity is an issue. The mere presence of “That woman who stole my man.” can lead to problems if the opposing parent still harbors anger. The child does not need the drama.
4. The statement “They are my kids now” is not healthy for the child?
5. Never criticize the child’s parent if the child is in earshot. Remember that children regardless of age take insults of their parent as a an insult directed towards them.
Following the guidelines of Co-Parenting by all adults concerned has left a track record of success in Blended Families. Given time the children are provided with a larger support group of Love.