The Big Girl Chronicles: Baby Mama Drama vs Co-Parenting Etiquette
I was fortunate enough to host a parenting support group as part of my job duties during employment. ALL of the parents that attended were single parent households headed by women. As I listened to the parents discuss issues that they felt contributed to the reason their family has found itself stressed, the number one reason after blaming themselves was blaming the absent father. The tales of how these women had felt abandoned by their children’s fathers left a feeling of bitterness lingering that actually added to the cohesiveness of the group. It didn't take much longer before I realized that part of the problem – a considerable part – is that the teens are caught in the middle of the parents “war.” The custodial parent is “warring” with the absent parent, demanding more time, attention – and most of all MONEY- from the parent who feels that his responsibilities as a parent ended with the relationship with the mother. Those whose “baby daddys” did make an effort to spend time with their children were held in the same regard as those who remained absent altogether because of their limited ability to provide financial support. As the women shared the conversations and heated exchange of accusations, the children often are witness to the cruelty and subconsciously absorb the negativity and bitterness making the possibility of establishing a healthy parent-child relationship that much more challenging.
Now, I don’t claim to be any type of parenting expert or anything. As a matter of fact, I could honestly identify with many of the feelings the parents shared about the difficulties of single parenting and (especially) the disappointment of an absent father who seems to have abandoned his responsibilities to his child(ren). However, what I've realized is that someone has to at least pretend to be the adult in the process and set aside disagreements to make certain that priorities are being met with the child(ren). The parents were behaving in a way that is classic of the description “baby mama.” “Baby Mamas” are known for bringing the drama. That drama is only adding to the problem. The goal became to interject some “co-parenting etiquette” and introduce a different way of viewing their relationship with their absent fathers that could create more positive energy for the child(ren). Some of the things we discussed in that parenting support group are outlined below.
If you've ever had a child participate in a sporting event or some extracurricular activity – or even witnessed parents who aren't “together” supporting their kids at some special event- you know the entire time the two parents spend there is all about the child(ren). The two parents could be seated near each other or as far away as possible, but for that time the two are focused on the child(ren). All their energy is poured into that moment, not each other. If those two parents can apply that focus used supporting their child(ren) during that event to their relationship with each other - a “team child” approach - they should begin to establish a healthy co-parenting relationship and create dynamics between the two of them that is more productive and conducive to nurturing the child(ren). Rather than reacting to the other parent out of frustrations and anger, think of the child. With the focus on the children, it’s no longer a thought or feeling of “I have to deal with this trifling (beep)” or “here comes that (beep) talking all that noise.” Parenting instead becomes a team effort with each of you showing up to cheer on your kid(s), putting you that much closer to raising a productive member of society that is well equipped to handle the basics of life. Regardless of the heartache or disappointment you have because of how your relationship as a couple ended, you don’t want to sabotage your child(ren) by creating a home environment so dysfunctional that you place your child(ren) at a disadvantage and hinder his or her ability to form and be a part of healthy, intelligent relationships.
The Parents/The Mirror
No parent wants to be made to feel as though (s)he isn’t an acceptable role model for his or her child(ren). Yet, it seems that some parents underestimate the influence that (s)he has on his or her child(ren). Whether we realize it or not, we are always modeling behavior that our child(ren) watch, learn and even pattern his or herself after. Mom and dad, your communication skills, conflict resolution skills and every other aspect of your personality is under scrutiny. You are a point of reference for your child(ren). Therefore, you owe it to your child(ren) to be at your best 24/7. Think of it as if you and your child’s other parent are standing side by side in a mirror. The two of you didn't work together as a couple. If you look at your reflection in the mirror together, you’ll likely recall all the hurt, frustration and disappointment that the two of you have come to mean to each other. What you are overlooking as you study your reflection together in the mirror is that the two of you are what make your child(ren). You don’t want your child to be symbolic of your failed relationship. You instead, as any good parent would, want the best of both of you to be reflected in your child. Thus, it’s up to you if you want your child(ren) to mimic the neck-rolling, finger-snapping attitude for which many baby mamas are well-known or model a style of communication that can be applied in difficult situations and is more socially acceptable.
Monkey or Human?
As children we played outdoor games like tag and dodge ball. We also played a game called “monkey in the middle.” I know it's silly, but it seems like the games we played as children have become games we play with each other while raising our children. When our relationship with the other parent has ended, we dodge responsibility for our children like playing dodge ball. We treat the other parent as if (s)he is some lunatic that we should avoid or hassle every opportunity we get, making them an “IT” like in the game of tag – something to avoid. But what’s most disheartening is how we use the child(ren). We place the child(ren) in the middle of our mess. And through the eyes of the child, (s)he is torn between the two parents that (s)he loves. Your child should never feel that (s)he has to choose between you and his/her other parent. Avoid this by refraining from speaking negatively about the other parent in the presence of the child(ren). Withholding phone calls, time and other manipulative tactics that we employ when “warring” with the other parent don’t really punish the other parent as much as it does your child(ren). Refer back to the “team kid(s)” approach and learn to manage your emotions and actions in a way that doesn't end up creating negative energy that is passed on the child(ren).
Know your limitations
Although it would be ideal to think that two adults can work together to raise a child, the reality is that many times the parents are the product of broken homes themselves – ill-equipped to do or become more than the example that their parents set for them. Take a moment to do a self-evaluation. Reflect upon how your parents raised you. Recall how you felt trying to manage your feelings for both your parents when they were at odds with each other. If you find yourself behaving in the exact same way and you know how hurtful it was for you growing up, then you can identify with the impact your inability to co-parent is having on your child. To protect your child from the pain that experience caused you, realize your limitations and begin to make adjustments for the better. You can talk with a family therapist or other professional who can help you through your parenting issues. But in the meantime, if you and the other parent aren't at an amicable level with each other, consider having a mediator that is neutral to communicate on your behalf. That way you avoid confusion and conflict with the other parent and the child isn't the one to suffer. The mediator can help establish a visitation schedule, parenting plan and keep each other abreast of important dates and activities. This removes the strain communicating with each other on your own might impose. Realizing your limitations and keeping them from effecting your child(ren) is the first of many steps you can take towards creating a healthier co-parenting relationship.
Below is a compare/contrast of some of the most well-known “baby mama drama” issues along with suggestions for a more mature approach that makes the child the focus rather than each other.
“Baby Mama Drama” Approach
*The other parent hasn’t paid child support in 3 months. The child’s birthday party is Saturday and the other parent isn’t invited.
*The other parent was disrespectful during our conversation. (S)he won’t be allowed to talk with my child.
*The other parent has had or is expecting a child with someone else. You begin to talk with your child(ren) about the other parent not being as supportive or inclusive of him or her because the other parent has started another family with someone else.
*Talk with the other parent about why there has been no financial support in 3 months. Whether this has been something that has happened often or if this is a first, invite the other parent to the birthday party. Follow up with an attorney or other professional to resolve financial support. The reason for this is because there is so much more to parenting and raising children than money. The other parent isn’t “paying” for access to his or her child. On the other hand, if the other parent has become unemployed or other circumstance that has hindered full payment of child support, there is still something that can be done to offer some support for the child. Whether it’s a $5 pizza or some small amount towards expenses, not having the child support payment in full doesn’t exempt one from offering any financial support whatsoever.
*There’s no need to speak disrespectfully to the other parent in return. End the call. Phone a friend or relative to establish a schedule for communication with the child(ren) and make certain the child is available during that time to talk with the other parent. Follow up with a mediator or attorney if communication between the two of you has reached a level of harassment that poses an unnecessary strain on you.
*Explain to your child(ren) that there will be an addition to his or her family, preferably together with the parent present. Take the exact same approach you would if the two of you were having the child together. Don’t rob your child(ren) of the excitement they should feel learning that (s)he will have another sibling because of the bitterness you might have toward each other. Remember, it’s “team kid(s).”
There is no other job as important as that of a parent. I don’t knock any effort that a single parent makes to raise his or her child(ren). Yet it also holds true that we sometimes unwittingly behave in ways that we don’t realize have a direct impact on the kind of person our child(ren) will grow to become. By learning to shift the focus to what’s most important – the well-being of the child(ren)- parents can raise a child together equipped to manage broken relationships in his or her adult life rather than a replica of parents’ emotional immaturity. Invest in the kind of person your child(ren) will become. Begin today putting aside the drama in favor of parenting that is conducive to forming and sustaining healthy relationships for your child’s future. Team Kid(s)!!!
For more information about co-parenting, you can visit:
Tips for Divorced Parents
Co-Parenting Skills Self-Assessment
*The opinions and content of this post are those of The Big Girl Chronicles. The links and resources shared in this blog post should in no way be held responsible for the content therein.