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Raising Children with a Partner

If we're lucky, we're raised to be independent, free-thinking people. Self-reliance and a little ambition can take us a long way, yet when we enter relationship, the very thing that enables us to thrive as singles, can present a challenge in relationship. Long-term relationship requires negotiation, compromise and teamwork. Add children to that, and it's a whole different ballgame!

  • Before
The best time to make decisions about parenting children together is before you have them. While you may want to delay the subject of raising children until after the third date, don't delay for too long once you've entered that committed relationship.

One of the most important decisions you may make is whether or not you want to have children. If you are dating someone who has chosen a childless lifestyle, but you are eager to raise a child, you have a real problem on your hands. While you may have some beautiful fantasy about your partner changing his or her mind as your love grows, it's really not all that likely. Even those folks who magically change their minds about wanting children often have yet another change of heart after they bring a child into the world. Raising a child is difficult enough- don't insist on doing it with a person who doesn't want to. Find someone who feels the same way you do about kids.

Once you have developed a partnership with someone who shares your love for children, take a small time-out from doing the wild thing until you've got a couple of issues hammered out.

First, determine what kind of values each of you honors. Then, determine whether those values are prioritized in similar ways. These are what you will share with your children, so it is vital that the two of you have similar beliefs and values.

Second, you and your partner need to identify what your roles will be in the family. Is your family going to be traditional in structure? Will you both work? Will one of you stay home to care for children? Will both of you be involved in childcare? If both of you work, who will care for your children while you are away from the home? What are your expections of one another when it comes to raising this family? If you're thinking you'll hire a nanny and head back to work after a few months, you'll need to make sure that your partner's on board with that plan!

Third, discuss what your visions of family are. If your partner comes from a big family and is hoping to raise a brood, but you're an only child and feel overwhelmed with numbers beyond ONE, then it's time to really review what each of you wants when it comes to family.

Fourth, is this the right time for you to bring children into your lives? Are both of you mature enough to take on this much responsibility? Are you financially and emotionally stable enough to become parents? Do you have sufficient support to help you raise children (extended family and friends)? Are the local and global communities stable enough to enable you to start this family safely?

Fifth, many couples know only that they want to have children. They rarely talk about whether or not they would like to conceive children or perhaps foster or adopt children, until one option fails and compels them to consider the others. Conception is a choice and one that couples need to contemplate carefully. If conception and childbirth are not prerequisites for you, consider fostering or adopting children.

Finally, when the two of you have reached a consensus about how you want to proceed, discuss thoroughly the way that you see yourselves parenting. Different strategies will be required as children age and develop. Are the two of you on the same page about how you will manage those different developmental stages? If you are a born diplomat and see yourself negotiating each choice with your child and your spouse intends to use spanking to gain complete obedience, delay those efforts to conceive until you really know that you're on the same page, or rethink your previous decisions until you can gain some agreement.

  • During
Assuming you've made it through the previous stage of decision-making regarding children, you enter the domain of parenthood. Your world changes immeasurably when you take home that little person: you sacrifice the life you led before, so that this person can become all that they are meant to be.

There are two distinct styles of parenting that meet the developmental needs of children. Initially, instructional parenting is used, allowing us to teach all that we know to our children so that they can move forward. Our instructions are highly specific so that we avert as much danger as we can for our kids, while still allowing them to learn, thrive, separate and individuate.

Eventually, as the teen years begin, we transition to companion parenting through which we reinforce all that our children have learned to do, but from a more relaxed and less authoritative position. This is the phase of parenting during which we can have discussion and negotiation with our children- about curfews, household chores, and even about sex.

Many parents find the transition from instructional to companion parenting difficult, especially if the parent had exceptional teaching skills! But for the parent who was uncomfortable in the power seat, the shift to companion parenting may be quite a relief.

Beyond the use of the parenting style which will best meet the needs of your child, there is likely no real right or wrong to parenting. Parents from every different culture and walk of life find a way that works for them. But, the one thing that successful parents have in common is that both parents need to be on the same page about parenting!
  • After
Typically, if no major challenges arise, eighteen years pass and the couple will launch the child into independent living. Due to the pervasive desire for advanced education, most children don't become fully independent until their mid-20s these days. But, the day-to-day parenting lessens and co-parents resume the roles of partners and co-conspirators in life.

In order for couples to keep their relationships alive after their children are launched, both parties most put effort into growing and maintaining the relationship over time. If you don't put gas in the car, it will eventually stop moving forward and come to a complete hault. If you don't continue to reinvest in your love for and attraction to your partner, the relationship will eventually end when the two of you are no longer required for active co-parenting. The healthiest couples spend the final year or two before launching children playing and travelling more, and using free time to relax together. The decrease in time spent with children and the increase in time spent together allows the couple to renew their feelings for one another and acclimate to spending increasing amounts of time and energy with one another (so that it isn't a tremendous shock when their children leave home and they are left only with one another!).

Single Parenting-

While the concept of single parenting seems daunting to many, it has both benefits and drawbacks. Probably the greatest inherent benefit of raising a child on your own is that you don't have to compromise any of your beliefs or values about parenting. When a decision needs to be made for your child, you get to make it, without the thoughts, opinions, or ideas of anyone else (if you so desire). The drawbacks to single parenting are many. When you bring your child home, everything s/he wants or needs for at least the first five years will require the investment of your time, energy, money and spirit. All decisions, responsibilities and obligations will be yours to manage. You will sacrifice your single life, and much of the time you may have previously spent on yourself, to feed and grow this little person. It will all be up to you.

And despite what will surely be several exhausting, emotionally excruciating years, you will gaze upon your child every day, feeling the Light in him or her grow with each breath, and witness the radiant smile that will warm your heart no matter how you feel. Single parenting is not for the weak of heart, but can deliver an extraordinary gift nonetheless. If this is your life, stay strong. It gets easier over time.

Utilize your resources. Use your support system. Say yes to those kind folks who offer to sit for your child so that you can get a night out on a regular basis- even if it's just to attend a Parents without Partners meeting! Soak up every moment that you can with your child because one day, it will be their time to fly and you, too, will have launched a being into independence!

Parenting through Divorce-

In Family Law, there is one phrase repeated throughout the divorce process when the couple has children: "for the best interest of the children." What's in the best interest of the children is often a point of contention in divorce- mostly because the parties divorcing are angry with one another and can agree on very little. They each have their own perceptions about what would be in the childrens' best interest- and typically it has something to do with the children remaining with them. Divorcing couples, enraged with one another, cease to see the other party clearly- as someone that they once loved and with whom they created a family. In the divorce process, children are frequently used as pawns in a financial and manipulative chess game. What's in the best interest of the children is never to be placed in the middle.

So, if you're getting divorced, here are a few rules of thumb that would be best for BOTH of you to follow:
  • Get some help. Divorce is really tough for most people, so each of you needs some support. Sometimes when a couple has mutually agreed that divorce is the best option for all considered, the family can attend divorce counseling sessions together. When the process is more contentious, it is important that both co-parents have their own therapists and that the children are provided a therapist to work with as well. Play therapists are wonderful for children as play therapy bypasses the need to verbally articulate one's feelings. The use of movement, play, sound and art all enable children to communicate their feelings about the divorce process in ways that come naturally to them.
  • Find out what's in the best interest of your children. Have your team of advocates help you identify what's in the best interest of your children. Both the therapists who are caring for the co-parents and the clinician providing treatment for the children can assist the family in forward movement- often far better than the co-parents themselves, because the members of the team can remain relatively objective during the process while the co-parents are not likely to be so.
  • Stick to the ground rules. When you make the decision to separate, make some ground rules and put them in writing. Both co-parents can sign the document, committing both to an equitable process. While it's not a guarantee, couples who create and stick to a set of mutually-agreed upon rules tend to raise healthier children and develop a better co-parenting relationship over time.
  • Hold a regular meeting of the minds. If you are able to do so, commit to meeting as a group at least once per quarter: co-parents and their therapists can review how things have proceeded, and evaluate the strategies and rules currently in place. Should things need to be changed the group can brainstorm together and revise agreements much more easily than if co-parents try to do so on their own.
  • Remember that it's not personal. Despite the fact that you may have been left, the divorce is not about you. Divorce is the result of a relationship that comes to an end. It need not be about the death of love, or the loss of attraction, or the identification of a better lover or anything lese. It may simply reflect the end of the relationship.

    Consider this: you live next door to someone you really like and enjoy. After many years of happy friendship, your friend gets a job transfer and moves to another state. During the first year apart, perhaps you email or send Christmas packages. Over time, the communications become less frequent and eventually, you just don't have contact anymore. If you're like most folks, you don't take the end of that relationship personally. You simply accept that sometimes relationships end for a variety of reasons. They end when there just isn't enough contact, communication, or motivation to maintain the relationship.

    Marriage is really no different. It's not personal, it's just divorce.
Parent Skills Training

The concept that parenting is somehow innate is rubbish. Parenting requires skills that we learn by seeking out knowledge from those who have more experience and wisdom than we do, and practicing faithfully what we learn.

That, some good intuition and a stick of gum will get you far.

Some folks gain experience by tending to younger brothers and sisters, or even ailing parents or grandparents. Others babysit in their teens and '20s to gain experience with children. Even others work in childcare or school settings where they acclimate to the ways of children. But, those who are raised in smaller families, or who work at jobs that don't involve interaction with children, don't naturally develop those skills. It doesn't mean that they can't, it just means that they might appear for the job as parent without any of the skills required.

So, when you've determined that you or your co-parent fits that bill and has no real experience or skill set for raising children in a sane and healthy manner, it's time to get some help!

There are a wide variety of books on parenting that can be great resources. Some even come with workbooks. And, for those of you who might not learn best from books, there are also some terrific courses for learning parenting skills. My personal favorite is a course taught in workshop format (all over the United States), that actually comes with a book and a workbook! It's called Redirecting Children's Behavior, and it provides a remarkably easy set of directions for raising competent, terrific little people! Check your local bookstore or Amazon for the books, or simply use any Internet search engine to locate a workshop near you! Your children will thank you for doing so!