Ask The Expert: How do I put my children's needs first when I hate their dad?
A co-parenting expert discusses how angry parents can put their children's needs first during a bitter custody battle.
Q: I'm still very hurt and bitter after splitting with my husband because he had an affair. We're trying to sort out custody of our two young children, but how can I put their needs first when I'm still so angry with their dad?
A: Karen Bonnell, author of The Co-Parenting Handbook (£17.99, Sasquatch), says: "In the face of all the hurt and betrayal, trying to figure out parenting time for your children can be overwhelming. You've completely lost faith and trust in this man and yet you're supposed to turn the kids over to him on some regular schedule.
"Kids do best with a strong and engaged relationship with both parents post-separation or divorce. So how do you do this with so much hurt swirling between the two of you?
"Take good care of yourself. Do all you can to stop recycling inside your weary brain all the wrongs he's guilty of and focus on what's in front of you: attending to your work, caring for your home, nurturing your children, spending time with friends.
"Hold tight to the fact that your children need their father to grow up as healthy as you can hope. You can't control someone else's actions, but you can control your own story: 'He may have been a loser as a husband, but he's my children's only dad and they need him.'
"Separate your relationship with him from your children's relationship with him. I call this separating 'spouse mind' from 'parent mind'. Your new co-parenting relationship with this man will be a business relationship. From parent mind, you two will be in the business of raising two incredible children together until death do you part. Not as your friend, nor ex. That's old spouse mind thinking. He is your children's father. Period.
"Everything you do for him is because of your kids. Why are you respectful? For your kids. Why do you communicate effectively to him important information about the children? For your kids. Why do you want him to have enough parenting time? Because your kids will be stronger and healthier as adults (I'm assuming he's a good-enough parent, not necessarily the best, just good enough). That's what they need.
"Lastly, the transition from hurt, angry spouses to skillful co-parents involves time and active grieving. This next year or two will be filled with adjustments for everyone, lots of grief, and the unfolding of a new normal. Hard to imagine right now, but with your eye on a constructive future, you, your children and their two-home family will find stability again.
"Stick with other parents going through divorce adjustment in positive and healthy ways. Be allies for one another during the tough times, and celebrate your successes.''