Good Co-parenting Means Making “Me Time”
September 18, 2018
BY: Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O'Cathain & O'Cathain
One thing that distinguishes good parenting from great parenting is having happy, well-adjusted children. Although you may provide love and support, your child may still struggle with being truly happy. Renowned psychotherapist Sean Grover explains that “a parent’s most important job is to demonstrate to their children how to live a fulfilling and happy life.” Grover recommends the book “Happy Parents, Happy Kids,” written by Daisaku Ikeda, which explains how to create a harmonious family life. However, for people grappling with separation or divorce, a “harmonious family life,” is an unnecessarily daunting task, which is why parents should instead focus on creating harmony within themselves.
As hard as this may be to believe, the best way to ensure that your child is happy is to make sure that you as the parent are happy. Children emulate their parents but even on a subconscious level, children also mirror the behaviors that they see. As a psychotherapist with years of experience helping children, Grover explains “No life lesson, no lecture, order or directive is more powerful than your own behavior. Your child absorbs your life-state, happiness or unhappiness.” (1) When parents ensure they are happy individuals, the child will instinctively internalize your feelings of happiness and will make efforts to “be happy,” themselves.
Trying to remain happy is extremely difficult in co-parenting in a divorce situations when a parent is forced to say goodbye to a child for a day, a week or longer. This is usually exacerbated when the children are young in age. As a result of the regularity of these issues, I believe it is important to address how the parent not exercising parenting time should behave. My best piece of advice is that when you are not exercising parenting time, you should concentrate on one thing and one thing only: “Me time.” Yes, I understand most parents believe that “me” time does not exist when you are a parent, but for the people who have shared custody of their children, it is important to concentrate on yourself when you are “off-duty.”
What Not To Do – Obsess over “What If’s”
Many clients do not use their non-parenting time to their advantage. Instead, they spend all of their time and energy consumed with thoughts of their children. They focus all of their energy hypothesizing all of the problems that may be occurring in the care of the other parent. “What if he did not put enough sunscreen on the baby? What if she didn’t give Gracie the right vitamins? What if he does not know to bring a sweater to the theater for Maryann?” This is not productive and is not helpful. All this does is create a source of tension between you and your former significant other, which impacts your child. The feeling of uneasiness you harbor for your former significant other will be obvious to the child, even if it is not obvious to you. That feeling of constant worry will deter you from being a “happy parent,” and will ultimately become a trait that your child will start to mirror.
Additionally, if you spend the time your child is away worrying about them, once they get back, you are already exhausted. It is extremely difficult to be an attentive parent when you are with your child if all of your attentive energy was depleted when the child was away.
Missing the Children
Even if parents are not second-guessing the parenting style of their former significant other, people will often spend the time away from their child consumed with the absence of their child. I acknowledge that it is basically impossible to not miss your child when you are separated, but the absence of your child should not be the focus of your day. Instead of living their life and doing something for themselves, parents will spend their days counting the minutes until the next Skype/phone call or the return of the child. When they finally have their child on the phone, instead of having upbeat conversations about the fun activities the child is doing, they end up spending the entire conversation talking about how much the child is missed. This can have detrimental effects on children. Feel free to tell your child you miss them, but do not make it the focus of the conversation. If you do, the child ends up feeling guilty for enjoying time with the other parent. When the “I miss you” part of the conversation ends up being the entire conversation, the child ends up being upset that mom or dad is at home alone missing them. This will frustrate the parent exercising parenting time and will only further escalate any tensions currently brewing between the co-parents.
What to Do: Trust Yourself
Best way to avoid the above pitfalls is simply to trust your own instinct. You have to remember that at some point in your life, you believed that the other person was going to make a loving, supportive and attentive parent. Regardless of the animosity that has arisen since the birth of the child, you, yourself thought very highly of this person. Trust the younger version of yourself because in all reality, as much as you may not like it, the only other person on earth who will ever love and protect your child the way you do, is your former significant other.
Me Time: You are not just a Parent
Now, I understand that raising children is not easy. I understand it is has a lifetime of responsibilities and obligations that consume you from the moment that child comes into being. However, as overwhelming as parenting is, I urge you to find time for yourself. There are numerous studies that have documented how good alone time is for your mental health and well-being.(2) But when it comes to co-parenting in a divorce situations, I implore you to go above and beyond “alone time,” and ensure that you get ample “Me Time.”
When your child is not with you, instead of obsessing over the next Skype call, spend your day getting back to the things that made you an individual. As parents become obsessed with feeding times, school calendars and/or extracurricular activity schedules, little by little parents tend to let go of their own interests: the guitar that hasn’t been picked up in years, the quilt that stopped being sewn mid-pregnancy, the exercise classes that never seem to be conveniently scheduled. Many parents give up their own passions and interests in order to focus on their children’s. However, it is the parents that are separated and/or divorced that actually have the ability to resume those interests because they get “off-duty time,” that other parents don’t.
The next time your child is going to be with the other parent make a conscious effort to do something you really enjoy and haven’t been able to do in a long time or make plans with that friend you haven’t spoken to in ages. Life gets busy when you have kids. You try to stay in touch with all of your friends, but your friend group tends to revolve around people who have children the same age as yours. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months until it has been years since you have spoken to your college roommate. Reach out to a friend you haven’t seen in forever and make sure you schedule something fun to do the next time your child is going to be with the other parent. Making sure that you are doing things that you enjoy will also help you have those upbeat conversations with your children. Your children will like hearing that you have a life when they are not around. Children will like knowing that their parents are happy. Because, as previously discussed, the best possible thing you can do to ensure your child is happy, is to make sure that you are happy.
So, go ahead! Be selfish! Make sure you get some Me-Time: it’s the best thing you can do for your children.
(1) Grover, Sean, Psychology Today, February 17, 2018, “How Parents Can Make their Kids Experts in Happiness.”
(2) Granneman, Jenn. Psychology Today. December 27, 2017. “7 Ways Spending Time Alone Will Change Your Life.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-secret-lives-introverts/201712/7-ways-spending-time-alone-will-change-your-life
Morin, Amy. Forbes. August 5, 2017. “7 Science-Backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Alone,” https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2017/08/05/7-science-backed-reasons-you-should-spend-more-time-alone/#7f82db081b7e
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