Co-Parenting After a Divorce or Separation
Co-parenting after a split is rarely easy, especially if you have a contentious relationship with your ex-partner. You may have concerns about your ex’s parenting abilities, be under stress about child support or other financial issues, feel worn down by process, or think you’ll never be able to overcome all the resentments in your relationship. But proper co-parenting with your ex can give your children the stability, security, and close relationships with both parents they need.
Why is co-parenting important for children?Unless you are or have dealt with family violence or substance abuse, then having both parents play an active role in their children's daily lives--can ensure your kids' needs are met and they retain close relationships with both parents. Research suggests that the quality of the relationship between co-parents can also have a strong influence on the mental and emotional well-being of children, and the incidence of anxiety and depression.
Kids whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship:
o Feel secure. When confident of the love of both parents, kids adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and new living situations, and have better self-esteem.
o Benefit from consistency. Co-parenting fosters similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so children know what to expect, and what's expected of them.
o Better understand problem solving. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves.
o Have a healthy example to follow. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future to build and maintain stronger relationships.
o Are mentally and emotionally healhier. Children exposed to conflict between co-parents are more likely to develop issues such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD.
Set hurt and anger aside.Successful co-parenting means that your own emotions--your anger, resentment, or hurt--must take a back seat to the needs of your children. Setting aside such feelings may be the hardest part of learning to work cooperatively with your ex, but it's also likely the most vital. Co-parenting is not about your feelings, or those of your ex-spouse, but rather about your child's happiness, stability, and future well-being.
It's okay for you to be hurt and angry, but your feelings don't have to dictate your behavior. Instead, let what's best for your kids--you working cooperatively with the other parent--motivate your actions.
Don't put your children in the middle. You may never completely lose all of your resentment or bitterness about your break up, but what you can do is compartmentalize those feelings and remind yourself that they are your issues, not your child's. Resolve to keep your issues with your ex away from your children.
Never use kids as messengers. When you use your children to convey messages to your co-parent, it puts them in the center of your conflict. The goal is to keep your child out of your relationship issues, so call or email your ex directly.
Keep your issues to yourself. Never say negative things about your ex to your children, or make them feel like they have to choose. Your child has a right to a relationship with their other parent that is free of your influence.
Improve communication with your co-parentPeaceful, consistent, and purposeful communication with your ex is essential to the success of co-parenting--even though it may seem absolutely impossible. Think about communication with your ex as having the highest purpose: your child's well-being. Before contact with your ex, ask yourself how your talk will affect your child, and resolve to conduct yourself with dignity. Make your child the focal point of every discussion you have with your ex-partner.
It is not always necessary to meet your ex in person. Speaking over the phone or exchanging texts or emails is fine for the majority of conversations. The following methods can help you initiate and maintain effective communication:
Set a business-like tone. Approach the relationship with your ex as a business partnership where your "business" is your children's well-being. Speak or write to your ex as you would a colleague--with cordiality, respect, and neutrality. Relax and talk slowly.
Make requests. Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing as much as you can as requests. Requests can begin "Would you be willing to...?" or "Can we try...?"
Listen. Communicating with maturity starts with listening. Even if you end up disagreeing with the other parent, you should at least be able to convey to your ex that you've understood their point of view. And listening does not signify approval, so you won't lose anything by allowing your ex to voice his or her opinions.
Show restraint. Keep in mind that communicating with one another is going to be necessary for the length of your children's entire childhood--if not longer. You can train yourself to not overreact to your ex, and over time you can become numb to the buttons they try to push.
Commit to meeting/talking consistently. Though it may be extremely difficult in the early stages, frequent communication with your ex will convey the message to your children that you and your co-parent are a united front.
Keep conversations kid-focused. Never let a discussion with your ex-partner digress into a conversation about your needs or their needs; it should always be about your child's needs only.
Improving the relationship with your exIf you're truly ready to rebuild trust after a break up, be sincere about your efforts. Remember your children's best interests as you move forward to improve your relationship.
o Ask your ex's opinion. This simple technique can jump-start positive communications between you. Take an issue that you don't feel strongly about, and ask for your ex's input, showing that you value their input.
o Apologize. When you're sorry about something, apologize sincerely--even if the incident happened a long time ago. Apologizing can be very powerful in moving your relationship away from being adversaries.
o Chill out. If a special outing with your ex is going to cut into your time with your child by an hour, graciously let it be. Remember that it's all about what is best for your child. Plus, when you show flexibility, your ex is more likely to be flexible with you.
Co-parent as a teamAim for co-parenting consistency
It's okay for children to be exposed to different perspectives and to learn to be flexible, but they also need to know they're living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Aiming for consistency between your home and your ex's avoids confusion for your children.
Rules. Rules don't have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids won't have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments. Important lifestyle rules like homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities should be followed in both households.
Discipline. Try to follow similar systems of consequences for broken rules, even if the infraction didn't happen under your roof. So, if your kids have lost TV privileges while at your ex's house, follow through with the restriction. The same can be done for rewarding good behavior.
Schedule. Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children's schedules. Making meals, homework, and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child's adjustment to having two homes.
Making important decisions as co-parents
Major decisions need to be made by both you and your ex. Being open, honest, and straightforward about important issues is crucial to both your relationship with your ex and your children's well-being.
Medical needs. Whether you decide to designate one parent to communicate primarily with health care professionals or attend medical appointments together, keep one another in the loop.
Education. Be sure to let the school know about changes in your child's living situation. Speak with your ex ahead of time about class schedules, extra-curricular activities, and parent-teacher conferences, and be polite to each other at school or sports events.
Financial issues. The cost of maintaining two separate households can strain your attempts to be effective co-parents. Set a realistic budget and keep accurate records for shared expenses.
As you co-parent, you and your ex are bound to disagree over certain issues. Keep the following in mind.
Respect can go a long way. Simple manners should be the foundation for co-parenting. Being considerate and respectful includes letting your ex know about school events, being flexible about your schedule when possible, and taking their opinion seriously.
Keep talking. If you disagree about something important, you will need to continue communicating. Never discuss your differences of opinions with or in front of your child. If you still can't agree, you may need to talk to a third party, like a therapist or mediator.
Don't sweat the small stuff. If you disagree about important issues like a medical surgery or choice of school for your child, by all means keep the discussion going. But if you want your child in bed by 7:30 and your ex says 8:00, let it go and save your energy for the bigger issues.
Compromise. Yes, you will need to come around to your ex spouse's point of view as often as he or she comes around to yours. It may not always be your first choice, but compromise allows you both to "win" and makes both
Final ThoughtsTo effectively co-parent requires equal effort by both parents to work together for their children. If your ex is unwilling to make the effort it takes then the Court Orders will dictate what is done. All you can do is stay calm, give your best effort, and be patient. Unfortunately, while the Court can provide specific rules and procedures it cannot make a person turn into a good parent.
Work closely with an experienced lawyer and be sure you read and understand all Orders of the court.