Parents must be willing to approach counseling with an open mind and be willing to listen. Parents must complete the required co-parenting seminar (2 Parents – 2 Homes) unless otherwise pre-arranged with counselor. Parents who are open and listen to the counselor and their ex-spouse/partner, are the ones who are able to reach a settlement and develop a mutually satisfactory parenting plan. Those who believe there is only one solution to custody and visitation issues are usually fairly stubborn and generally refuse to compromise. Parents need to come prepared to be open and to brainstorm options until a solution that works is discovered with a win-win situation for everyone, especially the children.
Parents should come prepared with several options. They should do their homework before sessions. Both parents need to think about and write out a proposal that you can refer to in the counseling session(s). This prevents overlooking something that is important to a parent during the process. Parents should understand their child(ren)’s needs and stay focused on these needs. They should be aware of the impact parental conflict has on children. When parents are in agreement and working together productively it allows the children an example of a positive functional relationship they can carry into their future. Counseling is not the place to focus on the other parent, it is about the child(ren). Counseling progress usually breaks down when parents argue about the “he said – she said” issues between them. It is not a place to rehash old marital/relational issues but a place to solve parenting problems after divorce or separation.
Parents need to communicate about their child(ren) and their perception of their needs through the counseling process. If a parent is concerned about the other parent’s anger, they should talk about their child’s need for peace, positive functional role modeling and security. If a parent is concerned about the fact that the other parent lets their daughter stay up too late, they should address it by talking about her/his need for routine and structure. Parents should be open to what they might need to change for their child(ren)’s benefit. They must be willing to avoid character assassinations.
Finally, parents should bring a sense of balance and humor. At times during sessions, things get tense. Parents should maintain a perspective that balances their desires for their child (ren)’s best interest, the other parent’s desires for their child(ren)’s best interest, and their child(ren)’s needs. While this is the goal, it may not be easy. If things get tense, parents should remember that they are there for their children, not them self. They should recall that they don’t have to like their ex- spouse/partner to make an agreement on behalf of their child(ren); they just have to love the child(ren) more than they hate their ex-spouse/partner. The struggling parent may have a brief time-out from a session if necessary, though extra time may cost them financially; with proper preparation this can be avoided. If the emotional stress is too great or child support issues are involved the parents may need other type sessions to reach a satisfactory settlement. Child support counseling sessions must be scheduled on a separate date than co-parent counseling.
Parents must be willing to listen to the counselor’s advice and consider it. The staff will most likely have the child(ren)’s best interests in mind, even if parents can’t agree on what that is. Parents will need to recognize that the counselor’s job is to try and balance the child(ren)’s needs and each of the parents desires. The counselor does this while encouraging parents to reach a parenting solution. While parents will want to hold firm to their beliefs and values, they must be willing to remember that there may be many ways to satisfy these beliefs. Parents should be open to different ideas, keep working to satisfy their goal of the child(ren)’s best interest, and be willing to compromise to reach a peaceful win-win solution on behalf of their children. Sometimes outside agencies and court orders will have to be considered and guidelines of orders applied to parenting plans. While co-parent counseling helps avoid new court proceedings, court mandated agency interactions or parental requirements will have to be applied in the co-parenting agreement until the courts are satisfied with the outcome that they have judged upon.