Parenting after a divorce is not easy. To keep your divorce from adversely affecting your children, it’s important to work with your ex-spouse to be a pro-active co-parent. If you can both make the commitment to be involved and supportive, you can successfully co-parent and give your children the security they need. Here are five things that you can do to be a better co-parent:
Create a Detailed Co-Parenting Plan
The best way to avoid conflict and confusion is to sit down with your ex-spouse and create a detailed co-parenting plan. Writing out a plan will prevent fighting over details like which parent the children will be with on particular days, who the children will spend holidays with, where drop-offs will take place, and other details of your children’s lives. It’s important to create a routine the children can depend on that will run smoothly without a lot of conflict. If you and your ex-spouse have a contentious relationship you can work with a mediator to create a parenting plan that both parents can agree upon. Once you have a co-parenting plan in place – stick to it. The more detailed the plan is the better it will be for the kids.
Create a Strategy for Dealing with Conflict
No matter how well you and your ex-spouse get along there are going to be some bumps – and sometimes hurdles – to get over. Whether it’s miscommunication over the need to switch days or holidays, or one spouse wanting to introduce a new romantic partner to the kids – there will be conflict. Working out a plan for handling conflict ahead of time will help to avoid angry outbursts or fighting in front of the kids.
Back Up Your Co-Spouse
Children need boundaries, consistency and routine in order to feel safe in their dual environments. When you undermine your ex-spouse’s rules or tell your children that they don’t have to follow the same routine at your house, you are not hurting your ex-spouse, you are hurting your kids. Decisions about daily routines should be made together and written into your co-parenting plan to maintain consistency. For example, if you both decide the children should go to bed at 9 PM, don’t let the children stay up until 10 or 11 when they are at your house. If your ex-spouse doesn’t allow the children to eat sugary foods, don’t let the kids binge on donuts and cookies when they are with you. Support each other’s rules as co-parents.
Even the best parenting agreement and the best intentions can’t cover all contingencies. Schedules change, people get sick, and life simply happens. Sometimes your co-parent might need your help to pick up the kids or to switch days. Be flexible and willing to help out, if needed. Remember that you are working together to give your kids what they need – the best of both parents.
Give and Take Feedback
Over time your co-parenting plan will probably change. As your kids get older you will need to re-assess the plan to see if it’s still providing the best quality of life for the kids. Be open to receiving feedback from your ex-spouse and give constructive feedback. Don’t be critical or petty. If you are having trouble keeping your conversations civil and constructive, enlist the help of a mediator to help take the edge off of the situation.
A qualified mental health professional can provide parenting and dispute resolution coordination, and post-divorce family therapy for all members of the family. For problematic high-conflict situations, parallel parenting is another option for parents who don’t wish to communicate with one another, but share responsibility in the parenting of their children.