How to Co-Parent When You're Divorced

Divorce is hard on everyone involved, including the children. After going through divorce and the emotional fallout of the experience, parents have little time to build a new relationship with each other based on the needs of their children. Having children means you can't each go your own way. You know you have to find a way to set aside your feelings about the ex-spouse and focus on the needs of your children. The big question is how to do that. Co-parenting horror stories are plentiful, but divorced parents can rise to the occasion with effort and focus.

  1. A New Relationship

    • The divorce probably left behind hurt feelings, anger and unresolved conflict, but that relationship is over. Co-parenting effectively requires divorced parents to build a new relationship with each other. The idea of this new relationship is helpful in letting go of old issues and focusing on the children. The new relationship is entirely about the children and finding ways to function as a family by putting the needs of your children above your own and above any residual conflicts from the marriage. Adopt a business-like approach to contact with the ex and keep the focus on the children.

    Visitation Schedules

    • Co-parenting involves regularly scheduled visits, overnight stays and negotiations over holidays and special events. Using visitation with the other parent as a threat, punishment or to induce guilt can make the child fearful and anxious. Children are less confused and frustrated if schedules are set and adhered to by the parents. Help children prepare for the change and practice self-restraint during pick-up and drop-off times. The website HelpGuide.org recommends always dropping off the child at the other parent’s house on switch day instead of picking up the child, which can appear as if one parent is taking the child from the other parent.

    Rules

    • Divorced parents can agree to a few rules to make co-parenting easier and prevent harming the children. Parents can agree not to speak negatively about each other to the children, use the children as go-betweens to express anger or frustration or use the children as spies to gather information. Parents can agree to present a united front to the children and make decisions privately. Agree on the information you will regularly share with each other, such as medical or school information, and agree to make big decisions together. Co-parenting is more effective if, as much as possible, parents agree on issues such as bedtime, discipline, prohibited activities and behavior.

    Resolving Conflict

    • Even the best of co-parenting intentions won’t prevent conflict from erupting. Divorced parents can agree in advance about how to resolve conflict. A few watchwords to keep in mind are respect, compromise and communication. Parents can agree not to argue or attempt to handle conflict in front of the children and to make sure that co-parenting conflicts are about the children and not side issues. Negotiation can help resolve conflict when each parent relaxes his or her positions on small issues and agrees on more important issues. Present a united front to the children after the conflict is resolved.

    Benefits

    • Children benefit tremendously when divorced parents agree to co-parent effectively. When children are allowed to have joyful, healthy relationships with both parents, they are less likely to experience a sense of divided loyalties, abandonment and instability. When the focus is on the child, he is less likely to try to meet the parents’ emotional needs. The strength of your co-parenting relationship can help your child feel safe and self-confident.

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