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Co-parenting

Air Date: 07/12/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-5723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net   Nobody gets married intending to get divorced. Whether we're young or old, first-timers or old veterans, we choose to marry with high hopes and all the best intentions. Still, everyone knows the statistics: half of all marriages end in divorce. This is nothing new: it's been true since the 1950s. While some of these adults will remain single, 75 percent will eventually remarry. For those remarrying the divorce rate is even higher: the complications of creating a stepfamily mean that as many as 75 percent of second and third marriages will end in divorce. So--what happens to the children?             Well, for a significant number of America's children, family life is extraordinarily complicated. There's mom's house and dad's house-that is, if both parents are still around. One or both of a child's parents may have remarried; there may be stepsiblings to further complicate the picture. And children often go back and forth between homes where the adults not only no longer love each other but may, in fact, no longer even like each other. They may argue about money, travel plans, time, schools, and who gets to show up at soccer practice. If worst comes to worst, they may wind up with lawyers in family court, arguing about every last detail. And all too often, children get trapped in the middle of a nightmare.             It's been said hundreds of times, but it's worth repeating: Barring abuse or neglect, children do best emotionally when they have open access to both parents, and when they can have two homes with no fighting. I have yet to talk to a divorced parent who doesn't love his or her children-but love doesn't always guarantee that you will make wise decisions. We're all too human, and the need to be most important and best loved by our children can feel overwhelming. I know: I've been there. But I spend a lot of time talking to children and, unfortunately, hearing them cry.             If you're one of the many divorced or never-married parents in our community, whether you're single or remarried, chances are good that your child has another parent "out there" somewhere and is trying to make sense of a difficult situation. Please consider this a message from your child, one that he or she might never be able to articulate, but one I'm willing to bet comes straight from the heart. If you can keep the following things in mind, difficult as they are, your child will be happier and healthier.             First, don't talk trash about your ex. Period. It doesn't matter if it's true; it doesn't matter if your child already knows it. Phone a friend or see a therapist, but don't run your child's other parent down in his hearing. It's okay to say, "I'm angry at your dad (or your mom) right now," but you don't need to supply all the gory details. Remember, that person is half of your child, and your child instinctively knows it. Under no circumstances should you ask or expect your child to choose sides. It's not the Super Bowl-it's your child's life.             Next, keep your agreements. If you say you're going to pick your child up at ten, then be there at ten. No excuses. If you're supposed to return her on Monday, be there on Monday at the agreed-upon time and place. Children need consistency and predictability in order to thrive, and they depend on you to provide it. Do your best to be reliable, for your child's sake if not for your ex's.             Lighten up a bit on the logistical stuff. Does it really matter if all three pairs of underwear come back to your house at the end of the weekend? Help your child make a chart to remind her what she needs to carry back and forth, like homework or softball uniforms or books, and don't sweat the rest of it. If you find you need something that was forgotten at her other parent's house, make a polite phone call and arrange to retrieve it. It need not become a personal issue-it's just stuff.             Treat your ex like a business associate. You don't need to love or even like her, but it's helpful to be respectful, to keep agreements, and to remain calm and courteous-especially in the presence of your child. Co-parenting is an excellent place to practice the Golden Rule-you remember that one, the one about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you? You might get a moment's satisfaction out of thwarting your ex in some small way, but is it worth putting your child in the middle?             Co-parenting a child with someone you no longer love is tough. You may have very real reasons to dislike or mistrust your ex-partner. But just for a moment, picture your child standing between you and her other parent, with each of you holding one of her hands. When you argue or resist each other, it's as if you yank on her arms, pulling her back and forth between you. Children can accept that their parents don't like each other. They just want the right to love both of you without having to choose sides, and to have two families, with no fighting. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.