After a difficult divorce, your roles shift dramatically. You are no longer a spouse, but you are still a parent. These changes will probably leave you with a key question: how will you get along well enough with your former spouse to continue to parent together?
The research is clear: even in the most acrimonious cases, co-parenting is vitally important. Even if one or other of you has sole custody, you will both need to collaborate in the parenting process going forwards (cases of abuse or other extreme situations excepted). The benefits for your children are simply huge. The following steps will help you make a start.
Focus on your priorities
Co-parenting is about the best possible outcome for your children. No matter how much conflict there is between parents, children still benefit enormously from a co-parenting situation. Therefore, conflict is not an excuse to avoid co-parenting.
Try to separate your feelings about the divorce from the process of parenting. This may be extremely difficult, and it may help to vent to a good friend or therapist. You could even keep a picture of your children somewhere on you at all times so you can remind yourself when necessary that this is about them.
Communicate openly and often
This is the key to successful co-parenting. If face-to-face communication is not an option, phone calls or emails are good alternatives. If not, schedule regular meetings where you can discuss all of your concerns.
Aim for a spirit of cooperation. Try to keep a business-like tone. Be prepared to listen. Commit to consistent communication in the future.
If you find it difficult to come to a verbal arrangement, you can create a written co-parenting plan. It should spell out who gets to make the decisions about different rules and who is in charge of certain responsibilities. This may not be possible. Perhaps your attempts to communicate always break down into arguments. If that’s the case, consider co-parenting sessions with a trained co-parenting specialist.
Collaborate on major decisions
Conflict is not a valid reason to avoid working together. In fact, the greater the conflict, the more specific your co-parenting decisions need to be. And there are major decisions down the road: which school will your children go to? Who will they spend the holidays with? Try to come to an agreement together.
It’s especially important to aim for some consistency when it comes to expectations and rules home. What time will your kids go to bed? How much will they get for allowance? What chores will they have to do? How will discipline be handled?
When your children perceive that you are cooperating, they will feel more secure.
Spend a lot of time with your children
For children to thrive in the aftermath of divorce, they need to have a good relationship with their parents. The best way to do that? Spend as much time with them as you can.
The way you spend that time really matters. Be engaged. Invest in their emotions. Take an interest in their lives. Ask questions and listen. Get involved in their daily routines. In short, show them that you really care and are there for them no matter what.
Support the other parent’s role
Research shows that children of divorce need to spend quality time with both parents in order to handle divorce well. Encouraging your children to spend time with the other parent is part of your duty.
Make demands instead of requests
Remember, you and your ex are now in a form of business relationship – the business of bringing up your children. No matter how resentful or angry you may still be, you must treat each other as professional colleagues, and that means being polite and considerate when negotiating parental roles and responsibilities. If negative emotions are allowed to creep in, your partnership will inevitably blow up.
Trash-talk your ex in front of the children
This is distressing for the children and will destroy any attempts you’ve made so far to present a united parenting front. It will upset their fragile sense of security and leave them feeling mistrustful, confused and frightened. Being exposed to their parents’ conflict is damaging for any child. At the very least, keep your tone and speech neutral when referring to your ex, and do not tolerate any disrespectful talk you may hear about your ex from your children.
Emotionally burden your child
Your feelings and issues around the divorce are your own, and they should never be your child’s problem. As tempting as it may be, it’s best to avoid pouring your heart out to your child. If you need to talk, turn to a friend, family member or counselor. Your job is to protect your child as much as possible from the painful fallout of your divorce, and ensure they continue to feel safe, worthy, and loved. Any further emotional burden you place on them is deeply unfair.
In the end, no matter how much conflict persists with your ex, co-parenting requires you to recognize the other parent as an equal influence on your children—even if you have different parenting styles. As long as the other parent is not abusive or deeply opposed to your values, you are creating invaluable long-term benefits for your children by encouraging positive relationships with both parents.
Co-parenting after a tough divorce is by no means easy. You don’t have to become best friends with your ex. However, achieving a degree of cooperation, however unappealing that may seem, will help you embark on a far more positive road ahead.
PARC’s trained and compassionate therapists have over 30 years’ experience working with divorced parents and their children. Call us today for an immediate consultation. We’re here to help.