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The GPS (Guidance for Parenting System) Model
When planning a trip, it’s a good idea to know the destination ahead of time. Where are you going? What route do you want to take? Will it be direct, or do you want to take a scenic byway? Where can you get gas, food, or emergency help along the way?
It’s the same when planning for your child’s future during or after a divorce. Knowing your destination is the most important part of planning. Even if you and your ex, or soon-to-be ex-spouse or partner, cannot agree on much of anything, you can usually agree on where (and what) you want your child to be.
• “Parker should have a good education.”
• “Pamela should stay healthy.”
• “Parker should be a good citizen.”
Agreeing on what you are interested in for your children takes away the “right” or “wrong” from parenting decisions. It changes how you think about parenting. Focusing on your children—what is best for them, even if it may be hard for you—will help ensure that your children reach their destination of healthy, happy adults.
When you are not sure how to get to a certain place, a GPS is a good tool. Enter in the address where you want to go, and the GPS will tell you how to get there, turn by turn. This book will introduce the Guidance for Parenting System, a road map for parents of divorce. The GPS in this case is a Parenting Plan, put in place and monitored by a Parenting Coordinator. (Even if you’re not working with a Parenting Coordinator, you can use this book as a resource for parenting after divorce.)
What Does a Parenting Coordinator Do?
A Parenting Coordinator is a professional who helps parents map out the plan for their children during and after divorce. The Parenting Coordinator can be a lawyer, mediator, psychologist, social worker, or mental health professional. This is a person who has gone through special training and is qualified by the court for such work.
Parenting coordination can help families and parents in many ways. Here are some examples:
• Helping parents shift from romantic partners to parenting partners
• Teaching parents how to manage negative feelings in a positive way
• Giving parents and children good communication tools
• Setting up ways to work out conflicts between parents
• Keeping to the court-ordered plan
• Saving legal costs
The Parenting Coordinator works with parents, for children. The children are the focus.
Let me repeat that: your children are the focus. Not you. Not your ex, as wrong as you feel he is. Not the new stepmother, as wrong as you think she is. Your children are the ones who had no say in the divorce and who need both parents now more than ever.
The next time you meet with your ex to talk about plans for your children, take a picture of the children with you. Lay the picture between you and your ex. When you begin to stray off topic, look at the photo and then refocus on your children.
It’s about them!
In my work as a Parenting Coordinator, I find that this is the most important step in a parenting plan. Parents who learn to keep the children as the focus can, and do, set up good plans for their children—the kind of plans that get your children to their destinations feeling happy and healthy. It can be done. You can do it.
Keeping the children as the focus, in one way, is very easy; in another way, it can be quite hard. It is easy, as a parent, to want the best for your children. That is a natural feeling for a parent. But keeping the children as your focus after divorce often means letting go of anger, hurt, and resentment. That is much harder to do.
When my daughter was three years old, she had a terrible fever. Her doctor had given her medicine to take and told me to bathe her in cool water as needed. The medicine helped a little, but her fever raged on throughout the night. I stayed up all night, bathing her to cool her off, rocking her in my arms, and feeding her ice chips. It was easy then to focus just on her. I would never have thought of putting her in bed and going to sleep myself until she was better.
But in a divorce, there is no medical emergency demanding that you stay focused on your children. You might be hurting so much yourself that it’s hard to think clearly. Now is the time, however, to focus on your children, just as I did on that long night with my daughter. Once a parenting plan is in place, you can relax and follow the plan.
The parenting plan will include you and your ex (or soon-to-be ex), as well as other people important to your children. A grandmother may take care of the children after school, and so is an important part of their lives. An aunt may drive the children to karate lessons. A nephew may coach your son’s soccer team and be a role model. Your ex may have remarried, and a stepmother is now part of the plan. Everyone has their part to play in making sure that your children reach their final destination.
The parenting plan lets you know what to expect. It will change as your children grow, since what they need today will not be the same as what they need in five years. The plan, like the GPS, guides you turn by turn. And, if you make a wrong turn, you and the Parenting Coordinator can “recalculate” the plan, just as a GPS figures out a new route after you get off course.
The Phases of Parenting Coordination
Parenting coordination usually happens in three phases. The first is redefining the family. An important fact to know in this process is that all families change—with or without divorce. Children grow up and move out. A grandmother dies. A father gets a new job and the family moves to another town. Change is a normal part of family life. Every family will look different at different times. What happens in divorce is that the family may now have a dad, a stepdad and one mom or a mom, a stepmom, and a dad. This becomes the new “normal.”
To children, normal can come more easily than you think. This is especially true if parents calmly act as if normal really is … normal. I once worked with a ten-year-old girl whose mother had died two years before. When the girl was helping her dad fill out forms for middle school, she noticed a section with check boxes for “Parents: Married, Single, Divorced, or Widowed.” The girl complained that she wanted to mark the form “divorced” rather than “widowed” because divorce was more normal to her. “All my friends have divorced parents. None of them have to check widowed on the form. Why can’t I be like the other kids?”
In this first phase, normalizing divorce is followed by parents setting up goals for their children. These common interests—health, education, and so on—become the destinations to set in the GPS parenting plan. Parents move from thinking of right and wrong ways of parenting to focusing on the best interests of their children.
We need to stop right here, because I know what you are thinking. You and your ex can’t agree on anything. Even simple things become big between you. You think she is inflexible. He thinks you are stubborn. You wonder how I can be so positive that you and your ex will be able to effectively plan for your children. It takes two to plan, after all. How in the world will you be able to not only agree, but work on a plan together?
The answer is that you really do agree on some things. The problem is in how you both think about what you want for your children. Consider this: most of the time, you have a position about something. “I know what is right for our children” is a position. When you think of it this way, one person is right … and the other person is wrong. But, if you work from the idea that you and your ex share common interests, right and wrong fade into the background.
Common interests are basic ideas of what you both want for your children. Here are some examples:
• We agree that our children should be healthy.
• We agree that our children should obey the law.
• We agree that our children should have a good education.
From these common interests, you can build a plan that leads to the goals connected to each interest. “We agree that...