All children are affected differently by divorce. Much depends on their age, relationship with both parents and the level of tension at home before and after the divorce. One thing is universally certain. Most children of divorce do best when both parents remain actively involved in their lives. Maintaining the connection is a positive influence on children of all ages – including teens. This contact compensates in many ways for the reality that their parents no longer live together.
That’s why effective, cooperative co-parenting is so strongly encouraged following a divorce. Handled well, it will significantly reduce the long-term emotional impact on children.
Co-parenting styles and arrangements can differ widely from family to family. They can and should adapt to meet each family’s challenges and needs. The important thing to keep in mind is that co-parenting will only succeed if some basic agreements are established and followed to minimize and avoid significant mistakes. Here are some good strategies to follow:
1.Allow your child personal time with both parents.
Children better cope with the challenges and disruptions that come with divorce when you give quality time with both of their parents. This can include phone, screen, text and other time when in-person visits aren’t possible. Your child will thank you, have fewer behavioral problems, and grow up happier and emotionally healthier when you honor their love and need for both parents.
2.Protect your child from parental conflict & disagreements.
All divorce professionals agree that fighting around your kids is a path to pain, hurt and emotional scars for them. Be a positive role model for your child by exhibiting mature and responsible behavior. If you have issues, gripes or reason for angry words with your co-parent, plan a private time alone, far from your child’s eyes and ears, to have those conversations. Be sure not to ever discuss those conversations with your child. The consequences when you do otherwise will be significant and long lasting.
3. Seek out adult confidants – not your kids!
It’s hard enough for adults to unravel the emotional turmoil that comes with divorce. Think of how unfair it is to expect your child to bear those burdens on your behalf. You rob your kids of their childhood when you confide or share your feelings about your ex with them – especially when you’re trying to influence them in your direction. That’s so even when you feel totally right or justified! Need to rant and vent about your ex? Do it with a friend – or better yet, a professional with an objective ear and valuable advice. When children step into “parenting” their parent, they lose their childhood innocence. Don’t put them in that position — ever
4. Send direct messages – without making kids messengers!
When you have differences with your co-parent, discuss them directly, not through your children. Children can easily confuse messages. They can also intentionally change the messages due to their own guilt, anxiety, fear, resentment and other emotions related to protecting one or both parents. Asking children to be your messenger is a big co-parenting no-no. I highly recommend using one of the online scheduling tools now available, as a good resource for posting all parent-child details on a daily basis. Those tools reduce errors and conflict to keep the kids out of parenting issues
5. Parent as a “parenting team” for the well being of the kids.
Always think like a co-parent. Before your divorce you were one of two parents. You still are. When parenting issues come up, ask yourself: What would I do as a parent if we weren’t divorced?” If that’s still a sound response, talk to your co-parent and make a decision together whenever possible. You’re a parent first and a divorcee second. Co-parents who continue parenting as a team create an easier transition and better post-divorce adjustments for their child.
6.Be flexible and co-operative whenever you can.
When you can bend, compromise and cooperate with your co-parent you are modeling the behavior and mind-set that benefits both of you in the long-term. Flexibility reduces conflict and builds bridges toward better parenting solutions. Remember, every time you can forgive, resist getting upset with your co-parent or avoid other negative issues, you are ultimately making life easier for the entire family, especially your child. Isn’t he or she worth it
7.Be inclusive with your co-parent whenever there’s a choice.
Even when you are the primary residential parent that doesn’t mean your ex can’t be included in special occasion celebrations, school activities, sports, birthdays and other events in your child’s life. Imagine how pleased your child will be when both parents are on hand to enjoy those significant moments. When it makes sense for both parents to be together on behalf of your child, be cordial and mature. This lifts an enormous weight off your child’s shoulders. They’ll thank you when they are grown.
8. Pick your battles based on authentic needs.
To reduce conflict, co-parents should be prepared to agree to disagree whenever possible. You won’t see eye to eye on many issues, so let them go. If your child’s immediate health and psyche aren’t being threatened, be willing to bite your tongue or shrug off minor differences of opinion. When facing serious conflict and opposition about important issues, have facts, science, or expert opinions to back you up. That can help avoid he said / she said perspectives to achieve resolution. If you’re not clear whether this is a battle worth initiating, ask an expert. Don’t jump into battles based on emotions or hurt feelings
9. Learn positive, non-defensive communication skills.
There are ways of expressing your feelings without blaming or shaming your ex. Shaming and blaming, regardless of how valid your message, usually leads to more conflict. By learning and practicing “active listening” skills you can convey messages from an “I” perspective which is less likely to put your ex on the defensive. The results are more positive and effective. When we use “you” messages, they come across like pointing a finger in your ex’s face. Obviously that feels more likely to be discounted, refuted and misunderstood
10. Think of co-parenting as a parental business relationship.
Your marriage is over but your family must still thrive. Consequently, It’s helpful to think about co-parenting as a business relationship between you and your ex designed to focus on raising your child as its purpose. Your goal is making accommodations on behalf of your co-parent/partner for the higher cause of parenting success. This can be a valuable perspective for co-parents after divorce. When you put all your efforts into successful co-parenting, your child reaps the rewards. Isn’t that a bottom line result worth your commitment and attention?
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of the acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids About The Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide To Preparing Your Children — With Love! To get her free ebook, coaching services, expert interviews, programs, e-courses and other valuable resources on divorce and co-parenting, visit: http://www.childcentereddivorce.com
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce
Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach
Author: How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce?
Founder, Child-Centered Divorce Network
Host: Divorce, Dating & Empowered Living Radio Show