Kiddo in the Middle

By |2017-10-03T13:52:11+00:00September 14th, 2017|Co-Parenting, Divorce|0 Comments

When I was a kid, I remember stopping everything I was doing and running down the street at the sound of the ice cream truck rounding the corner. There were many options available on the truck, but only one choice for me. That firm solid chocolate cookie outside holding the cold, melting vanilla ice cream sturdy inside. Nothing compared to the ice cream sandwich. My family was much like an ice cream sandwich. My parents, the solid cookie exterior, held together the children, the messy, melting inside. I feel fortunate to have the ice cream sandwich family that I did, and it is possible for children of both intact and divorced families to have this same experience.

Children of divorce experience a different ice cream sandwich. Each side of the solid cookie structure begins to crumble or fall, and the ice cream inside starts to melt and drip onto the floor from the weight of the crumbling cookie walls. The children are in the middle, acting as a buffer, a barrier, between the two individual parents, so that they never have to get too close, but are still bonded in some way. Sometimes, one side pushes a little too hard, saying mean things about the other side, and yet, the ice cream remains in the middle.

Research has shown that children of divorced parents can have the same quality of life, opportunity, and self-esteem as children of two parent families. The key, though, is effective co-parenting. Nothing says ineffective co-parenting like putting a child in the middle of an argument…. Saying negative things about the other parent in the presence of the child…. Rolling your eyes when your child tells you something the other parent did. The child is going to love both parents whether they are together or not. There is no sense in making it stressful for a child to have a loving relationship with both parents.

We as humans often personalize things. We make things about us, when really, they have nothing to do with us. We are full of ego. And divorce brings out a lot of ego. But in order to effectively co-parent, egos need to be in check. The definition of parenting, according to Merriam-Webster, is, “To take care of another”. A child needs to be taken care of by both parents. They need to know that even though they do not all live in the same house, they are supported. The chocolate cookie outside hasn’t crumbled.

This is easier said than done.  Emotions often get in the way of making rational decisions or saying appropriate things at the appropriate times. Divorce is hard for everyone involved, and emotions are often present and raw. So how can a parent, one side of the ice cream sandwich, support the melting ice cream child? Find a way to put your child’s need first. Whenever you start to say something about the other parent, think to yourself, “Who is this benefitting?” When you are annoyed at your ex for bringing the kids home late, or for some other ridiculous thing they did, and you want revenge, stop. Think to yourself, “How is this going to affect my children?”

There is a technique in counseling that is known as “thought stopping”. The idea is that whenever the thought comes into your mind, you make a conscious effort to stop that thought from influencing your behaviors and your mood. Every time that thought enters your mind, you stop it. It takes work, effort, and practice, but in time, it becomes easier and easier to stop the unwanted thoughts.

There are different ways of using the thought stopping intervention, so I have included a few ideas for you to try.

1.    Whenever you have an unwanted thought, visualize the word “STOP” in your mind. Some people like to visualize the word on blackboard or in the form of a stop sign. Next, take deep breaths in and out, saying the word “stop” when you inhale, and “calm” when you exhale. Allow yourself to relax into this breathing pattern. In the case of parenting, you could use the names of your children as your inhale and exhale words, or you could stop negative thoughts about your ex.

2.    Schedule times to think negative thoughts. If you having trouble maintaining a cooperative relationship with your ex-partner, allow yourself a five minute period of time each day to privately think about the troubles that you are having. After that five minute period, those thoughts are no longer welcome. Each time they enter your mind, you push them to the side to be thought about at the appropriate time.

3.    Sometimes people are unable to visualize words in their minds, or adhere to a thinking schedule. That is ok- it’s not for everyone. Some people manage negative thoughts by snapping a rubber band on their wrist. Others put money in a jar every time they think specific thoughts (similar to a swear jar).

4.    Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Each time you get upset about something your ex is not doing right, or you recall the reasons that you divorced that person in the first place, make your brain also remember something positive about the situation. Share only the positive memories with your children.

Using this technique can help when co-parenting with your ex. Train your brain to ask, “How is what I do going to affect my children?” A parent’s consideration of this question can make a world of difference in the life of a child.  Thought stopping methods can prevent you from saying things that you shouldn’t, and will actually relieve stress in the long run. If you are no longer thinking negative thoughts, but instead have replaced these thoughts with deep breaths or a positive thought, you are more likely to have a positive outlook overall. Others around you will likely mirror your actions, including your children. If you demonstrate to them how to be a support, and how to stay positive through adversity, they will be more likely to do the same.

You can remain the strong chocolate cookie outside of the ice cream sandwich and support your melting ice cream child even when you do not like the support on the other side. You will never look at an ice cream sandwich the same way you used to look at them now, you know. Treat your kids to one tonight, and think about how you can continue to support them through this challenging time.

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