By Sybil Cummin, MA, LPC, ACS
Maintaining a meaningful connection with your child when stuck in a “high-conflict” co-parenting situation can be a daunting task, especially if they spend more time with your ex-partner. Strategies will be different depending on the age of your child, so in this article we’re going to share strategies specifically for older kids that can help bridge the emotional gap and foster a sense of connection despite the circumstances. If you believe that there is a strong likelihood that your child is being indoctrinated to believe lies about you, these strategies can help but likely will not be enough to completely challenge that level of conditioning. Stay tuned for future articles where we will go into more detail on these cases.
Understanding the Dynamics
Navigating the complexities of maintaining a connection with your child when they spend more time with your ex-partner means taking a look at various factors. The age and development of the child, your pre-existing relationship, and their feelings toward the living situation all play a crucial role. The strategies in this article are tailored for older kids, with the understanding that these can be adapted for younger children.
Micro-Moments of Connection
In the realm of older children, it's important to recognize that they may not want constant companionship with you like they did when they were younger. This is developmentally appropriate as they move into their teen years. Instead, focus on creating micro-moments of connection. These brief interactions, whether in the car, during a snack break, or a quick visit to their room, should be intentional. Steer clear of using these moments for chores or challenging questions. The primary objective is to show genuine interest in their world – ask about their favorite video games, the latest trends, or their favorite music bands.
When faced with limited physical time with your child, you can use technology to maintain a connection. Initiate text conversations without expecting immediate responses and send them things that remind you of them. Video visits using Facetime or other apps can be even more helpful in maintaining connection, especially when they are at the other parent's home. While these interactions aren't the time for challenging conversations, they serve as a way to reinforce your presence in their life. And if you have concerns that your abusive ex partner is listening or recording these conversations, you want to ensure that the focus is solely about your child and building connection.
Addressing Tough Questions
Older kids may have tough questions about the situation. When they muster the courage to ask, it's crucial to respond appropriately. Avoid badmouthing the other parent but it is absolutely appropriate to express your disagreement with certain decisions or statements. Statements like, “your father/mother and I see that differently,” or “that statement about me is false.” Remember, this is not an opportunity for a power struggle; it's about maintaining transparency and answering your child’s questions in a safe way to maintain connection.
Clearly this step is easier said than done. And it is extremely important. Respecting the timelines and pace of your teens is paramount as you build or rebuild your relationship. Do NOT pressure them to move faster than they are emotionally ready for. This can lead to resistance and further distance. I know it is easier said than done, but by having patience, you build trust and show them that you are attentive to their needs and emotions.
Consistency is Key
What your child needs to see, no matter their age, is that you follow through with your promises. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. It is likely that their other parent will not be consistent with follow through and often do not do what they say they are going to do. So, it is extremely important that you show up differently. This contrast will eventually be very apparent to your child and will bring them closer to you. There is nothing that will break trust more than a broken promise. Show up every time with unconditional love and support and you will build a stronger relationship.
Creating a Support System
In challenging co-parenting situations, having a strong and safe support system is indispensable. Establishing a safe inner circle can provide the space needed to navigate the ongoing onslaught of abuse. If you find yourself in need of additional support or if the strategies feel overwhelming, consider reaching out for assistance. Rising Beyond Power and Control, created with you in mind, offers a space for survivors navigating these muddy and treacherous waters just like you.
A Journey Towards Reconnection
Maintaining a connection with your child in the face of co-parenting with your abuser is undoubtedly a tough journey. By using these strategies – focusing on micro-moments, utilizing technology, addressing tough questions, practicing patience, and seeking support – you can navigate this journey with resilience and compassion. Remember, if the need arises, there is a community ready to offer guidance and understanding.
Wishing you a resilient and connected journey ahead!
Sybil Cummin, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse.