How can Custodial Parents Support Non-Custodial Parents? (Part 2)

Dr. Wayne Dyer said, "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at CHANGE."  Perspective in our circumstances is everything, especially in coparenting.  For the custodial and non-custodial parent each position comes with its unique challenges and often times we can only see our perspective.  However, having knowledge of the other's perspective can help change our perspective.  This blog is meant to help custodial parents (CPs) and non-custodial parents (NCPs) come to a shared understanding of each other (for definitions regarding a custodial and non-custodial parent click here to read Part 1 of this 2-part Blog series).  Part 1 of the series looked at 6 common feelings custodial parents may feel with suggestions to non-custodial parents on how best to support their custodial parent.  Below are 6 common feelings non-custodial parents may feel and suggestions for how the CUSTODIAL PARENT can address them in healthy and productive ways.

6 Common feelings for Non-Custodial Parents may be:

1. Feeling grief after dropping the child off

Dropping the child off with the custodial parent can be difficult for the non-custodial parent, because they know the connection they enjoyed with their child during their time together is about to be temporarily lost.  Often non-custodial parents feel grief after the drop off.  Some non-custodial parents may act out in anger at the custodial parent, when really they are grieving over the loss of connection with their child.

Custodial Parent (CP)can:

  • Acknowledge this is difficult for non-custodial parent (NCP)

  • Ask them if there is any way to make it easier for them

  • Realize as the CP you hold a lot of power in terms of connection with your child. Encourage your child to stay connected with the NCP. Do NOT abuse your power. 2. Feeling lost in maintaining a meaningful role in the child's lifeGoing from seeing your child EVERYDAY to once a week and/or every other weekend can be devastating for the NCP. For the NCP having a connection with your child takes a lot more work, because you are not seeing them at breakfast every morning or tucking them into bed every night. The everyday, easy conversations vanished and NCPs has to figure out new ways to connect with their child.Custodial Parent can:

  • Give suggestions to the NCP about what your child is interested in so they can connect with them. As the CP you know what they are watching, listening too, and who their friends are.

  • Include the NCP in daily activities of child (like a text or emails to teachers) so NCP has "talking points" with child this also let’s child know mom and dad are talking and cannot be manipulated

  • Involve the NCP in significant events of child (holidays, birthdays, school events)

  • Include NCP in discipline decisions, goals for child, problem-solving with child

  • Give the child suggestions of what they can do with NCP

  • Promote the relationship with the NCP

Note to NCP: Listen to your CPs suggestions. This is NOT a competition.  This is now your business.  The CP has a lot of knowledge about your child.  Be willing to listen.  Your business is raising healthy, thriving children together.  You would listen to your business partner's suggestions on how to promote your business-right?  Read my recent blog post on how to treat coparenting like a business.

3. Feeling reluctant to discipline during the short time

NCPs time with their child is precious.  The last thing they want to do is discipline their child for bad behavior during their short time together.  Unfortunately, the child catches onto this deal REAL quick and knows that they can get away with stuff with the NCP.  (Note from the counselor: Parents of divorce often feel a tremendous amount of guilt and give into their child easily.  This is not always good for children, because children of divorce often end up having WAY too much power, and they know it.  The child ends up deciding what restaurant to go to, what movie to see, what stores to go to, etc.  Divorced parents need to be careful about who is in control and not giving their child power out of their guilt.  Next time, ask yourself- what restaurant do YOU want to go to?

Custodial Parent can:

  • Acknowledge disciplining is hard for the NCP. Don't nag about the lack of discipline. Empathize that if you were in the same boat you would probably do the same thing.

  • Come up with shared rules for both households

  • Meet together on a regular basis (suggestion of once a month) to discuss shared rules and goals for child

  • Encourage NCPs to be consistent and follow rules you decided together

  • Be flexible. Ask yourself how big of a deal is this? If it really isn't that big of a deal, let it go. Pick your battles wisely. 4. Feeling pressure to have FUN visits

  • We have all heard of the "Disneyland Parent" and the feeling is real. The NCP is often the parent that has to move out, set up a new house and create a new routine with the child. Initially, this may be exciting and fun for the child, but after awhile the child may not want to play this game anymore. Packing bags and going back and forth to mom and dad's house gets old fast. The NCP does anything to hold the attention of the child like: buying them things, going on trips, having fun-packed weekends, so they will want to come back and stay with the NCP.Custodial Parent can:

  • Acknowledge with the NCP that you have no intention of taking your child's time away. Take the pressure off.

  • Encourage the NCP to have balance time with the child (a fun activity and rest)

  • Be flexible regarding visitation time. This will ease the pressure of the NCP having to make it FUN all the time.

  • Understand this feeling and talk with each other how you can both be fun and structured.

  • Allow times when the NCP gets the child for a few hours during the week for dinner, ice cream or just a walk

  • 5. Feeling like giving up NCPs get exhausted having to "dance" all the time. Sometimes they entertain thoughts of just giving up and letting the CP raise the child. They lose sight of their importance in their child's life, because no one is telling them how important they are, especially their child. Also, they may begin to enjoy their time without their child and feel guilty about that, which makes them feel like a bad parent, and want to give up. See the cycle?Custodial Parent can:

  • Encourage the NCP to not give up and give into the cycle

  • Promote their relationship

  • Acknowledge the struggle and show appreciation for what NCPs do (Appreciation goes a long way, so say thank you when you can!)

  • 6. Feeling guilty about daily life apart from their children

  • There is not much the CP can do to help with this. NCPs have to do their own work to acknowledge their guilt as well as know it is normal to feel this way. Reassure each other that you both are working to make the best of your situation and that this is a part of divorce. Custodial parents also feel guilt for a variety of reasons. Honestly, guilt is just a parenting feeling-married or divorced.

  • Finally, in order for CPs and NCPs to truly learn how to get along and understand each other they have to let go of their past relationship and learn how to re-design a new one. It is important that each parent do their own personal recovery work to learn how to let go of bitterness and move towards forgiveness of each other and themselves. This can be done through a variety of ways: counseling, a 12-step program, faith in a Higher Power, and having a community of people that loves you enough to tell you the Truth about how you impact them. Often divorced couples get stuck in the blame game for long periods of time. This blame game does nothing but breed bitterness and hurt, and causes a great deal of pain for the child. More than anything, it keeps you locked in your own prison of bitterness as well as life-long patterns that will continue if you never do the hard work of asking yourself hard questions. Learning about what the other parent may be feeling may be just the thing to change your perspective to begin your work as well as help your family move forward.

If you are stuck in your co-parenting relationship and not sure how to move forward, co-parenting counseling with me can help!   Please email at sara@sparrowcounsel.com or call me at 205-538-3978 or go online to schedule an appointment.

If you enjoyed this blog you might enjoy my other blogs on coparenting!  Click here to check them out!

Sara Dungan, M.Ed, LMFT, ALC, NCC, Certified Parenting Coordinator, Divorce and Family Mediator (Domestic Violence Trained) has her private practice called Sparrow Counseling in Birmingham, AL.  She specializes in Parenting Coordination, Co-Parenting Counseling and Divorce and Family Mediation.  Her passion is helping parents learn how to become successful coparents, so their children can thrive after their divorce.  Contact Sara at sara@sparrowcounsel.com.

Sara is an Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC) under the supervision of H. Hobart (Bart) Grooms, M. Div, MEd, LPC-S, LMFT-S, Supervising Counselor.