Power Source Parenting: Growing Up Strong and Raising Healthy Kids, by Bethany Casarjian, Ph.D., is the centerpiece for Lionheart’s social-emotional literacy program for at risk teen parents. It gets to the heart of what it means to be a teen parent, the struggles that these young parents face, and practical guidance to help them become loving, effective parents so their babies get the loving start and promising futures they deserve. Below is an excerpt from Power Source Parenting on a topic that many teen moms struggle with….”The relationship with your baby’s father or mother.” jp
One of the biggest questions we get during our parenting groups is about how to be a parent with an “ex”. What’s right for the baby? What if you and your ex don’t get along at all? We strongly believe that it is possible to raise a baby with the other parent even if you’re not together anymore. But it requires both of you to act as mature and level-headed as you possibly can. Some might say you have to step up to the plate, bite the bullet, turn the other cheek, be a bigger person, or just get the job done. It’s not always easy to coparent with someone who has cheated on you, let you down, or made you angry. But having a working relationship will actually help you in the long run. And it will certainly help your child. Here are some tips to help you make the best of what can be a tough situation.
If your baby’s other parent is a safe and responsible person (and by this we mean will keep the baby safe while they are together), it’s best for him or her to be in your baby’s life. Period. Sometimes we tell ourselves, “Well, he (or she) doesn’t give us enough money, he hangs out with his boys too much, he doesn’t call us for weeks at a time, he makes promises he doesn’t keep.” All of this may be true. But is it important enough for you to keep your partner from being a part of the baby’s life? NO! Just because you might be angry at him doesn’t mean your child should have to be. Don’t ruin her relationship with her other parent out of your own hurt and anger. That means no nasty faces when his name comes up, no hanging up the phone when he calls, and no badmouthing him. Research shows that kids who constantly hear their dad or mom is bad, think they are, too, because their parent is part of them. You’re not doing it for him. You’re doing it for your kid.
Did you know that kids who know their dads do better than average on tests that show how they are growing and learning? Are less likely to run away? Are much less likely to be violent, dangerous, and even criminal? Are better at doing things without help, keep control of themselves, wait longer before they start having sex? And are more likely to go to school, stay in school, and not repeat a grade? Boys who grow up without a father are 300% more likely to be put in a state juvenile institution. (Healthy Families San Angelo, 1992)
Being a parent isn’t 50/50. A young mother, Gina, 17 years old wrote to us and said: “It just doesn’t seem fair. We both made this baby, but I’m the one who does all the work. I have to stay home at night while he goes out with his friends. Plus, we both have jobs, so why does all my money go to the baby and his goes to whatever he wants to do?”
We go through life being taught to make things fair. But when it comes to being a parent, things aren’t always fair. If you are expecting the other parent to do as much as you (the primary caretaker), you will feel angry and disappointed a lot of the time. Guaranteed. If you get stuck in the anger for too long, you begin to pass up moments of happiness and joy. Soon, you may find yourself reacting to these negative feelings, rather than acting on what is best for your child!” Don’t let fairness be a reason for keeping the other parent out of your baby’s life. If you use the baby as a bargaining chip, everyone will lose. For example, if you keep the other parent away from the baby because he or she isn’t pulling his or her weight, you are training the other parent to stay away. If you make conditions about seeing the baby that he can’t realistically meet, you are pushing him away. Sure it would be nice if they paid their share, did as much childcare, and washed as much laundry as you. But sometimes to be more peaceful and make healthy choices, we have to ignore the score.
Let’s be clear. You have the right to ask the baby’s other parent for what you want and what you think is fair. You have to right to tell the other parent what’s on your mind. But the main question you should ask when making choices about your ex is “What’s best for my child?” Pushing the other parent out of your baby’s life leaves you with more work, more anger, and a child who sees less and less of his other parent.
One of the best ways to make things work out the way you want is to be an effective communicator. That means talking in a way so people can listen. You might be justified in being angry. But how you express that to the person you are upset with determines whether you’ll get what you want. If you start screaming at someone, telling him what a no-good loser parent he is, chances are he’ll either tune you out, scream back, or not show up very much. What if you figured out a way to get him to really listen and understand what you or the baby needs and why it is important? Think of an Oreo cookie: chocolate cookie — cream center — chocolate cookie. Believe it or not, an Oreo cookie can help us be a more effective parent.
Let’s say your baby’s dad was supposed to watch the baby for you while you went out with a friend. You’d been planning this for a week and you were really excited about it. When he finally does show up, he’s an hour late and your friend went to the movies without you. You’re really steamed. Instead of blowing up and getting into a fight that leads nowhere, try giving him an Oreo. Before you try this, make sure you are calm and in control of your feelings. Here’s how it works:
Cookie #1 — Give him a compliment — even if you are angry at the person. Sounds crazy, but it works. The best way to capture anyone’s attention is to start off by saying something that’s nice (and also true) about them. If you start with a criticism, he or she will get defensive and the conversation will turn into a battle. Start with something he does do right. Example, “You know, Darryl, you are really good with Orlando. And when you’re with him, I know he’s safe and happy.”
The Cream Filling — Tell the person how you feel and what you want to have happen. Use “I” statements. Don’t start blaming or shaming. Stick to the facts. It helps keep the conversation on track. For example, “I’m so disappointed and frustrated. It’s really important for me to have some time to go out, too. I take care of the baby a lot and sometimes I need a break. When you promise to take care of Orlando, it’s really, really important that you show up on time.” Stay away from statements like “you always” or “you never”.
Cookie #2 — End it with another compliment or something that is good about the person and true. Example, “I’m glad you want to help out with Orlando. He’s lucky to have both parents in his life.”
Oreos take practice. And, they work with all people, not just your baby’s other parent. Use it with your own mom, dad, sister, or whoever else you need to live with. It doesn’t solve all problems, but it does make life a whole lot less dramatic, which is good for you and your baby.
To learn more about Power Source Parenting and Lionheart’s other emotional literacy programs, please visit the Lionheart Website.
Teen Parents: “Not Together Anymore” by Bethany Casarjian, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.lionheart.org/youth/ The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author is credited and that the original publication Power Source Parenting: Growing Up Strong and Raising Healthy Kids (Copyright 2008) and excerpts in this blog (www.lionheart.org/blog/) are cited. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.