When my teenage son began smoking and drinking, my gut told me this wasn't experimentation, but signs of a deeper problem. I monitored him closely, talked to his teachers, friends — even his friends' parents — and sought help from professionals. Nothing worked; I felt powerless.
My husband was not supportive. He thought our son's behavior was normal teenage boy stuff. Feeling unsupported and angry, I stopped communicating. Neither of us was emotionally available or honest. As a parenting team, we failed to live up to the basics of a healthy relationship and our son suffered.
How can you solve a problem like this?
- Take back control.
- Work as a team, not a couple.
- Talk openly about what needs to be done for your child.
- Don't blame each other or discuss your relationship.
Even though two parents are no longer a couple, they can still come together in a healthy way to care for a troubled child for whom they both feel love and concern.
Years ago, my eldest was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her father and I were devastated and overwhelmed. Despite the severity of the situation, we held firm to a steadfast sense of control. We worked as a team and adopted a "divide and conquer" attitude. We talked to each other as often as necessary, setting aside topics that might intrude on the issue at hand, and adjusted our individual schedules to accommodate our daughter's newly emerging needs.
Whether you are still navigating the treacherous trail of divorce, or have the final decree in hand, you need to work together as a team, regardless of your personal feelings about your ex. When your child's welfare is at stake, you need to take certain steps:
- Compartmentalize your emotions and address the problem.
- Set specific weekly appointments with one another, daily if your child is in urgent crisis, during which you discuss only your child's welfare.
- Stick to the topic and don't give in to distractions — this is not the time to hammer out or argue over visitation or spousal support.
If these strategies don't work, proceed as though you are in a meeting with a co-worker. The business on the table is your child and the discussion is with another very invested person, but not the man you once fell in love with.
Follow a regular agenda such as the following:
1. Review: Talk about the progress from previous meeting. Then discuss action items. What do we do next?
2. Assign: Designate action steps — who will do what? Be sure to include completion times and dates.
3. Follow up: Limit new topics to those necessary to address prior to your next meeting and send a brief email summary.
Use email to correspond between meetings and save each conversation in a specially marked folder, so you will have an ongoing history of plans and agreements. To become partners in the business of raising the healthiest child possible, split tasks best suited to your skill set — maybe you volunteer to make the Boy Scout wreaths. And allow your ex to do his tasks his way. Perhaps, he can go on the camping trips.
Regardless of your feelings about your ex, the basics of a healthy relationship — a sense of personal control, commitment to teamwork, open communication, honesty and availability — create a framework upon which all parents can solidly build. Ultimately, your healthy and happy child will thank you.
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