Children thrive in a loving and understanding environment, with consistency and predictability. Let’s be honest, even in a healthy household this is sometimes a challenge. Divorce can disrupt the equilibrium of a family and present parents with the challenge of working together to co-parent.
To succeed in working together, or co-parenting, parents will need to place their own emotions (e.g., anger, resentment, or hurt) to the side and focus on the needs of their children. Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done. However, the quality of the relationship between co-parents has a strong influence on the mental and emotional well-being of children. So, it’s worth your effort.
The Benefits of Co-Parenting
A positive co-parenting partnership allows children to recognize that they are more important than the conflict that ended a marriage—and understand that their parent’s love for them will prevail despite changing circumstances.
Kids whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship:
- Feel Secure
When children are confident of the love of both parents, they adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and new living situations.
- Benefit from Consistency
Co-parenting may foster similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so that children know what to expect, and what’s expected of them.
- Better Understand Problem Solving
Children learn through observation, so seeing their parents continuing to work together provides a healthy model for them to learn to peacefully solve problems themselves.
- Are Mentally and Emotionally Healthier
Children exposed to conflict between co-parents are more likely to develop issues such as depression and/or anxiety, as well as behavioral issues.
The Dos of Co-Parenting
- Understand and accept that you will not always agree.
The sooner that you can accept this the less stressful your interactions with your co-parent will be.
- Create Healthy Boundaries
Identifying and working hard to maintain boundaries can be incredibly beneficial whenco-parenting. Recognize what you have control over—and what you do not have control over — regarding your children and your ex. For example, you cannot control who your ex dates or even whether they introduce that person to your children (unless it’s written into your custody agreement or parenting plan).
- Create a Consistent Schedule
Whether it’s navigating who has the children during the holidays or school breaks, switching between households, or spending time with relatives, maintaining consistency provides your child with a feeling of safety and security. Also, parenting transitions are smoother for everyone involved when the schedule is a predetermined routine. NO “we’ll see” or “I’ll let you know” or “we’ll figure it out.”
- Be Willing to be Flexible
I once read that the “co” in co-parenting stands for “cooperation” and in the midst of a separation/divorce filled with grief, it can be difficult to cooperate. This is where the “co” or “cooperation” in coparenting comes in! I know I just stressed the importance of a fixed schedule, but being flexible with one another can make co-parenting easier.
Even if you feel that the same courtesy is not being returned, control what you can control (i.e., yourself). It’s not about being equal or fair, it’s about doing what’s best for your child or children.
- Use Positive Communication.
This can be extremely difficult! Here are some tips:
- Set a Business-Like Tone. Approach communication with your ex in a business-like tone. Speak or write to your ex as you would a colleague—with cordiality, respect, and neutrality. If needed, just provide the essential information. No jabs!
- Make Requests. Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing as much as you can as a request. Requests can begin with, “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.
- Keep Conversations Kid-Focused. Never let a discussion with your ex-partner digress into a conversation about your needs or their needs, past resentments or feelings. It should always be about your child’s needs only.
- Make the Most of Your Time Together
It can be difficult to find unlimited time to spend with your children. When it comes to time with children, quality over quantity is what counts. Making the most of the time you do have together. Put away your phone, minimize distractions, and focus on using the time to strengthen your relationship.
- Recognize When You’re Motivated By Anger or Resentments
Ask yourself if your reluctance to cooperate with your coparent is based in resentment, anger, or revenge. Keep in mind and remind yourself that you are “choosing to be the best version of you for your child.”
The Don’ts of Co-Parenting
- DO NOT TALK NEGATIVELY ABOUT YOUR EX!!
Do not allow children to hear you talk negatively, or allow others to talk negatively, about the other parent, their family and friends, or their home. This includes belittling remarks, ridicule, or bringing up allegations. I can’t stress enough how poisonous this is.
- Do not Question Your Child About Your Co-parent
This includes questions about activities of your coparent, or regarding your coparent’s personal life. In other words, do not use your child to spy on the other parent.
- Avoid Parental Arguments When Children are Present
- Avoid Scheduling Extracurricular Activities During the Other Parent’s Time
- Do Not Involve Children in Adult Issues
This includes conversations about custody, the court, or the other parent.
- Do Not Alienate your Co-parent from Your Child’s Life.
Parental alienation is defined as an attempt to manipulate a child to hate, reject or resent the other parent without any justification, such as abuse.
- Do Not Send Messages Through Your Child.
No “tell your father” or “let your mother know”. Make a point to text, email or call your coparent and communicate directly.
- Remember that a therapist can help with co-parenting!!
- A Couple Extra Tips:
- Rules. Rules don’t have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids will adjust more easily. Do your best to be consistent with homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities 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 phone of gaming privileges while at your ex’s house, follow through with the restriction.