In any parenting, the stakes are high. But after divorce, they’re even higher. Creating a healthy co-parenting arrangement is crucial for helping your children to grow into emotionally healthy, confident adults. Co-parenting well is difficult, but for the sake of the children, it needs to be done.
If you and your ex don’t have a comfortable personal relationship, you should both try to think of it as a business relationship instead. Treat your co-parent like a colleague, communicate respectfully and create agreements that you keep. And ask yourself: Would I trash talk my colleague to other people? Would I blow off a meeting or be purposely late? If you wouldn’t do it to a team member at work, don’t do it to your team member in parenting. The danger of bad behavior at work is poor job performance or job loss. The danger of bad behavior in parenting is emotionally damaged children or loss of parenting rights.
Here are some important steps to healthy co-parenting.
- The right attitude will make all the other steps of co-parenting easier, and that is to have an attitude of empathy. Try to put yourself in your children’s shoes and in your ex’s shoes. How do they feel? How would you want to be treated if you were in their position? Try to act accordingly.
- Maintain an open dialogue, sharing the children’s schedules and important information. There are websites designed for this. Be sure to keep your co-parent informed of important news, both positive and not-so-positive (like an A on a big test as well as being sent to the principal’s office). That way you can both congratulate your child or help guide him or her into healthier choices.
- Be flexible. If a big event comes up and your ex wants to take your kids to it, let them go. It will build positive memories for them while also building positive relationships between their parents, which can only be good for them.
- Have some agreed-upon rules that apply at both houses: bedtime, chores, homework, internet use, manners. Knowing they have the same expectations at both Mom’s and Dad’s place gives your children a sense of consistency, stability, and security. Kids will always try to test boundaries. But it’s important to stay firm on these agreed-upon rules. Allow each parent to have other rules about less crucial things. Recognize people have different parenting styles and respect them. If no serious harm is done, let it go.
- One rule should be no trash-talking the other parent – that goes for both you and the kids. Focus on the positive traits your ex has, speak to your children about them and think about them yourself to improve your feelings when you have to communicate about parenting.
- Resist fighting or speaking rudely to each other in front of the children. Conflict between parents creates a sense of helplessness and insecurity in children, increasing the incidence of drug abuse and other unhealthy comfort-seeking behaviors. This example of conflict can also cause future problems in their own personal relationships, and anxiety can suppress the immune system, increasing illness.
- Avoid being the “Fun Dad” or the “Cool Mom.” Kids need calm, quiet downtime with their non-custodial parents, too. And having a marked imbalance between parents increases a child’s dissatisfaction and insecurity and creates problems for the not-so-fun parent.
- Agree to roles played by extended family members. They love the children, too, and are also affected by the divorce.
- Get together regularly for family meetings about parenting decisions. You can include the children, but also have regular meetings yourselves. Update your agreements every year or two to make sure they are current and appropriate as the children grow.
- When exchanging children for time with the non-custodial parent, have a short, pleasant goodbye so the children get a positive feeling about their visit. Don’t call unnecessarily and take time away from their other parent.
Following these steps may be difficult at first, but remembering that the goal is to help your children thrive should help it become easier in time. And that will be a win for everyone.