Co-parenting after a breakup or divorce is rarely easy for either parent. But no matter the circumstances, the situation has to be successful — for the sake of your children.
Older children might develop feelings that their refusal to do homework or tidy up their room is the reason their parents got separated. So your duty as parents is to help them adapt to the situation — and to do so free of guilt.
Here are some steps parents can take for successful co-parenting after a divorce.
1. Behave as if all is well.
Children are smarter than we may think. They can usually tell if all is well simply by observing facial expressions. To be a successful co-parent, do your best not to take out your anger and frustration on your children. Behave amicably toward your fellow co-parent, especially when in front of your kids. This will help calm their worries and anxiety. Remember: children are always at the receiving end of a divorce. While grown adults have often developed the ability to handle such situations, the same thing cannot be said for little ones.
2. Make every minute count.
It would be impossible for kids to receive 24 hours of bonding time and presence of both parents after the divorce. But you can make things a bit easier for them by making the most of the time you do get to spend with them. And, if your children rely on you to the point where they cannot sleep without your presence, be ready to make sacrifices until they adapt to the new situation.
Do not give them any reason to believe a divorce between you and your ex will mean that you longer spend time with your children. Continue visiting places that bring back old memories. Try to make your child happy by making good use of every opportunity you have to bond with them. You can even plan a family vacation, but seek the consent of your ex first. Desist from making promises you might end up not fulfilling unless you have approval from your ex. If you tell your children of your plans to travel someplace with them and your ex later refuses to accept, they might see your ex as a wicked person.
“Staying away from your kids can be really painful. But you need to accept that things will be this way,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., senior fellow, and sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Make each time you spend with your kids special. Be the best parent you can be by filling the hours you get to spend with them with various activities.
3. Learn to solve problems (together) with your ex.
Even if you and your ex do not get along, try to reframe the situation and adjust your mindset. For instance, imagine your ex as a colleague you don’t like. In this situation, you would have no choice but to work together for the good of the company. Both of you would likely never be good friends, but you must tolerate one another to work together peacefully.
The same approach is needed for successful co-parenting. You may end up not being good friends or lovers after a divorce, but you must work together because of the kids. If there are issues you both need to sort out, meet in private — not in front of the children. Whenever possible, don’t allow your kids to see both of you arguing.
To avoid distractions, always have the interest of your kids at heart when you both meet. Do not sit opposite each other to avoid eye contact. Sit side by side and keep pictures of your kids on the table to help both of you stay focused.
4. Talk with your kids about the separation.
Even if your kids are young, they will likely still demand explanations from both of you. One of the gifts kids treasure is having support from both parents. But they may fear that won’t happen because of the divorce.
Make sure your children are in a good mood before you begin discussing your divorce with them. Assure them they will never be left alone. They also need to know they are not the cause of the divorce.
Allow your kids to express their concerns and ask questions. They might feel angry, confused, and guilty, but try to make them feel better by answering their questions. Divorce is not something kids can shake off immediately. They will need time and love to adapt to their new normal — one of not having both parents around.
You will likely need to address the topic more than once. As parents, both of you can and should come together regularly to reassure them they will have all the support they need in life — even if will no longer be living together under the same roof as husband and wife.
5. Tame that temper.
If either co-parent has a temper, now is the time to tame it. You will need to work as a team — and this means not apportioning blame or insulting one another in front of the kids. Tame your anger before any meeting between the both of you. Remind yourself that insulting your ex will not change his or her bad behavior, but it will only make things worse.
Also, desist from telling your kids that your ex is a bad person. Such comments will weigh them down. If your children develop negative feeling towards your ex, co-parenting can become more challenging. Alternatively, kind words can heal a wounded heart and mend broken relationships. There are cases where co-parenting relationships improved after a sincere apology or praises of a partner’s parenting skills after years of staying separated.
Divorce is equally a challenging period for both parents and children. However, children need all the support they can get during this time. Even when both parents are no longer living together, they can work together. Take the above suggestions to heart and you’ll be well on your way to successful co-parenting.
Editor’s Note: This post was submitted to Wevorce anonymously. If you would like to read more on this topic, please visit the Co-Parenting category on our blog.