A Parent Coordinator is an impartial third party available to assist parents in resolving issues relating to parenting and other family issues prior to their child moving on to their next program or school after wilderness, or prior to graduation or returning home from their residential program. The assist with:
- Clarifying priorities prior to returning home or moving on to their next program or school
- Developing a parenting plan that meets the needs of the child and the parents
- Exploring possibilities for problem solving
- Developing methods of collaboration in parenting
- Identifying disputed issues
- Reducing misunderstandings
This situation is different than when we are Parenting Coordinator’s assigned by the court. In this situation the goal is not to modify any order, judgment or decree of the court. At times parents decide to divorce just prior to, or while their child is attending their residential treatment program or school. One way to help children through this early stage is have the assistance of a Parenting Coordinator to openly discuss what is happening in the family. In some cases, it makes more sense for children to hear about the decision to separate from both parents who have additional support. If this is the case, the Parent Coordinator makes sure that they works with your child’s therapist. They repeatedly tell your child that both parents will always love them and that you will always be a family. The difference will be that when they return there will be two households. This is where a Parenting Plan can assist.
The Parenting Plan addresses any concerns the child may have like the need to maintain a relationship with both parents. It is very important that your children understand their relationship with both parents is forever and that they will never be abandoned. The Parent Coordinator can help explain that a divorce does not end your child’s relationship with either parent. The marriage may end, however, the parent-child relationship will continue Generally, for a child in a youth program or boarding school, short, clear explanations are best. Remember they do not have to understand everything all at once.
Their understanding of your divorce will evolve as they get older and will change with their age. It is also a benefit that we will be able to work with their therapist in their behavior modification program or boarding school which means they will receive additional support. Another important message for kids to hear is that in no way is the divorce their fault, nor are they able to keep you together. When the idea of parents separating is completely new to your child, reinforce to them that you will make every effort to keep things stable for them. At the same time, let them know about upcoming changes. Remember children will ask the same questions repeatedly. This is normal and is their way of gaining a sense of security and reassurance about the future. It is important to keep your answers simple and consistent.
It is very important that both parents reinforce that the separation/divorce is taking place because of differences between the parents. Working with your child’s therapist in their program helps you conduct such conversations without damaging or disparaging remarks about the other parent. Children adjust more easily when parents show a healthy sense of respect and caring for the other parent despite difficult circumstances. Co-parenting responsibilities apply to all parents whether they are married or divorced.
The extent that parents can effectively co-parent their children greatly determines how children will adjust after returning home from their emotional growth program or school. Parents who have a child returning home after graduation or completion of their program will now have to start dealing with more day-to-day issues concerning their child’s welfare. Decisions, like those concerning religion, discipline, finances, morality, recreation, physical health, education and emergencies need to be discussed prior to their coming home. These decisions need to be discussed and made jointly. Remember that married parents often have differing ideas about all or some of these issues. This is to be expected. There is no reason to assume that divorced parents should always agree on them either. What’s important is how you deal with differences, not that they exist. It is better for parents to agree to disagree and practice compromising than to argue and fight endlessly for their own way. This, however, is often easier said than done.
Parents who chose their battles and cooperate when there are differences are more likely to make healthy decisions for their children. In fact, nurturing an overall spirit of cooperation is more important than parents agreeing on any one particular issue. Also, parents who acknowledge and effectively deal with their own difficult feelings usually have an easier time. On the other hand, recurrent arguments between parents make life difficult for children and parents alike. When parents fight for their own agenda and neglect creating a peaceful environment, their children may develop bitter feelings and have difficulties later in life with their own intimate relationships. Remembering to relate maturely and with a healthy sense of respect for the other parent (even in the face of great differences and in some cases bad feelings) is the challenge for every parent. Fostering such an environment teaches children much about love, life, change, and family relationships. Being in a family style program or outdoor school brings about many changes in the lives of both parents and children. One change for children may be in their immediate support network. This might mean a loss of friendships and school ties. Some parents move to a new community before their child returns home. This move might also include changing relationships with extended family members. To minimize stress on your children and ultimately yourself, work to keep your lifestyle close to what it was prior to your child being in their residential program or school.
When possible, keep friends, family, school, and other community support systems stable. When changes are necessary, make sure you give your children ample notice about them and discuss them with your child’s therapist while still in their program. The more comfortable parents are with such changes the more comfortable their children will be. In the days just after your child returns home from their youth program, or wilderness program there is usually an adjustment period that can last for several weeks and oftentimes several months. During this time, people are adjusting to new routines, schedules, and living situations. It may take time for life to seem normal again. Don’t worry, eventually it will. Some kids are open about their feelings and the associated changes they experience. Others will be less vocal.