Being parents is one of the most joyful and important jobs there is. But what happens when the family unit becomes disrupted and mom and dad divorce? You’re not the same unified guides to your children’s welfare and well-being anymore.
Co-parenting from separate households takes consistent cooperation. Here are some tips to help you and your ex make it through and beyond the transition and still be a dynamic duo.
1. Have a Prepared Talk
How should you break the news of the divorce to the kids? Thinking through the conversation you’ll have with them better prepares you and them. Should you and your ex have the conversation with them together or separate? Anticipate their questions and have ready answers.
Discuss where they will be living and how often they will visit each parent and so on. Enter them into counseling if you feel they need outside help coping and understanding.
2. Create a Parenting Plan
Creating a parenting plan keeps you both on the same page. You’re working as a team, with defined roles. This reduces conflict and misunderstandings and gives the kids a heads up on which parent will do what (visitations, taking them to school, appointments, social activities, vacations).
How do you want to approach their education, developmental, mental and physical health needs? Are you both in agreement?
Having a list of your kids’ contacts, the people that are in their lives (extended family, teachers, counselors, coaches, doctors, friends) not only keeps you informed but shows them you’re deeply involved in their lives. You might also want to inform these people of the divorce if they don’t already know.
Your ex won’t feel shut out or that you’re deliberately keeping something from them if you keep them informed about your kids’ activities and progress … how they did on a school test, the results of a medical exam, what they’re doing with friends. Besides, it makes for a better ex relationship.
Are you collaborating on decisions about your child’s leisure activities, making joint decisions on what activities they participate in?
Are you sharing with each other the significant events and achievements, special moments of your kids’ lives? (“Hey, guess what: Sally learned to ride a bike today.”)
Are you alerting your ex about any incidents or changes in your children’s health or behavior? Do you notice any behavior or personality changes? Are they eating properly? Are they staying socially active or keeping more to themselves?
4. Play Nice
Sure, it can be painful sharing a parenting role with someone you may not get along with so well. But are you carrying over conflicts, differences, and disappointments from the marriage? Is it affecting your parenting?
Cooperation is important as co-parents. Are you encouraging your ex’s involvement in your children’s lives? Are you being accommodating to them within reason?
Examine any mind games you might be playing, such as using your children as a way to get back at your ex because you might be feeling resentment, hurt, or anger … a carry-over from the marriage or divorce process. If so, you’re adversely affecting the other parent, yourself, and your kids.
5. Have Routines and Consistency
Is life for your children as normal as possible? Is their new home life an environment they’re familiar with? Do they have access to their personal belongings, clothes, mementos, important school papers in both households?
It’s less confusing to everyone if house rules and boundaries are respected and enforced consistently by both parents (curfews, bedtimes, TV watching, discipline). Familiarity and routine will make them feel more safe and comfortable.
6. Decide What’s Appropriate
Discussing divorce litigation and other problems between you and your ex are disturbing to kids. Do they really need to know the nitty-gritty details?
Are you bad-mouthing their other parent to your kids? Are you putting your kids in an awkward situation by airing differences or conflicts you’re having with your ex?
Are you using your kids as messengers between you and your ex? (For example, “Tell your mom I can’t take you to your soccer practice.)
7. Spend Quality Time
Make the most of the time you spend with your kids. It’s quality that really counts. If you’re the visiting parent, are you engaging in activities with them or just babysitting? Both parents: Are you listening to what your kids have to say or are you distracted, multi-tasking?
Co-parenting is an ongoing learning process. If at first you mess up, learn from your missteps. Be reasonable. Be compassionate with your co-parent; they’ll be more likely to show you the same. You have a joint mission: you both want to see your kids happy and thrive.