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Parenting and Divorce: It's about you!
By Ed Sherman
Author of Make Any Divorce Better!: Specific Steps to Make Things Smoother, Faster, Less Painful, and Save You a Lot of Money

As a parent, you are at the center of your child's life, but first you are at the center of your life, and what your child needs more than anything is for you to be okay. Being OK will also improve your negotiations with your Ex over all issues.

There are a lot of things you can't change, can't control, so you have to play the hand you've been dealt. But the one thing you can do something about, the one thing you can control, is how you react to things that happen. From now on, what you do and what you say is entirely up to you -- you are in charge! I want to help you learn about the things you can do and say that will greatly improve your chances for a better future sooner, and the health and well-being of your child. That's what my life's work is about -- helping people get through divorce with a better outcome.

How you feel, who you are, what you do, choices you make, and how you act toward the other parent, these will all have a powerful impact on your child and on your own life from this day forward. As soon as possible, you need to turn away from whatever upsets you experienced and are now tangled in. Let it all become the past, not your future -- it's all old news and bad habits. Now it's time to turn your attention to creating new habits, a better attitude, and a calm, strong, outward-looking center. Doing this will help you, your child, and will improve all your contacts and negotiations with your child's other parent. It will greatly increase your chances for a peaceful settlement of all issues.

So, while you are struggling to deal with events in your daily life, high up at the top of your list of priorities is your determination to find a new center in a new life, to create calmness, strength and optimism at your core. While life swirls on, you keep this constantly in mind and you become patient because you know you are on a journey of a thousand small steps. Whenever you wander off course, or get blown off, fuhgedaboudit!  Pick yourself up and put yourself back on course to how you want to be.

If you're like most people and finding this to be a very trying time, I'd like you to read Tips for getting through a tough time right now.

The other parent

You can't control your Ex but you can control how you act and react toward your child's other parent. You have to keep in mind that your Ex also faces fears and challenges. Above all, you must know that his/her state of mind is extremely important to you for two reasons: (1) this is your child's other parent and your child needs both parents to get centered and settled so they can give the child a feeling of well-being on both sides, and (2) you can't negotiate terms or work on parenting arrangements when either of you are fearful, angry or upset. You need to help calm one another's fears and spread reassurance that financial and parenting arrangements can and will be worked out. Ideally, you will make temporary arrangements for support and parenting that will get you through for a while until you can reach a final agreement. The important thing is to try everything you can do on your own before you hire an attorney to go to court for custody and visitation orders, because that is certain to get you into a very nasty and very expensive legal battle that will surely damage your child, both parents and all chances for future co-parenting. If nothing else works, ask your Ex to join you, for the sake of your child, in mediation just on temporary arrangements. Meanwhile, keep plugging away at things you know you can accomplish, doing things you know you can control.

Things you can control

You can't control the other parent, but you can control how you react to things the other parent says and does. Remember, "If a dog bites you once, shame on the dog; but if the dog bites you twice, shame on you." How long, how often, are you going to let your Ex push your buttons, get you riled, make you feel bad? People are more complicated than dogs, so it takes more than two or three bites and it's especially difficult when you are interacting regularly about your child, but at some point you have to take responsibility for your own part in cycles that play and replay over and over. At some point, it's up to you to rise above it and find some way to change how you react to the same old triggers. Yes, it's best if the other parent is doing the same thing, but remember . . . you can't control that. Focus on what you can control -- you. Parenting is emotional deep water, but for the sake of your child and yourself, you need to turn the boat and start rowing toward a friendly shore and a more useful way of looking at things.

The first part of the equation, the first place to start, it's all about you and the things you, and only you, can do to make things better.

Parting thoughts.  Unless you have an emergency, don't go to an attorney until you first get organized and prepared, figure out what you want from the attorney, and particularly what attorney to go to.  Don't talk to your Ex about divorce or parenting until you learn how to reduce upset and lay the groundwork for successful negotiation.

© 2008 Ed Sherman and Nolo Press Occidental

Ed Sherman is a family law attorney, divorce expert, and founder of Nolo Press. He started the self-help law movement in 1971 when he published the first edition of How to Do Your Own Divorce, and founded the paralegal industry in 1973. With more than a million books sold, Ed has saved the public billions of dollars in legal fees while making divorce go more smoothly and easily for millions of readers. His latest book, Make Any Divorce Better, does exactly what the title says. You can order his books from or by calling (800) 464-5502.