If you're divorced or separated with kids to raise, you and your ex need serious co-parenting skills. Certified Parent Educator and Family Coach, Kim DeMarchi, M.Ed., stopped by to share her tips.
Once you sign the divorce papers, that's the end of the road, right? If you have children, WRONG! Adjusting to co-parenting bring its own challenges, such as interacting with your ex-partner on a regular basis. And let's be honest, if you two had a healthy relationship to begin with, you probably wouldn't need to be co-parenting today.
Q. What is co-parenting?
A. Co-parenting is when 2 parents are NOT in a marriage or romantic relationship with one another, they are NOT cohabitating, but they ARE working together and sharing the duties of raising a child. Co-parenting allows both parents to guide the child's development, as would be the case in an intact family. The only difference is the child lives in two houses. Each parent spends time raising the child and then allows the other parent to do the same in a separate location.
Q. Isn't that just the same as any set of parents that get divorced or separated?
A. Choosing to co-parent is very intentional and has some subtleties. Successful co-parenting is an option ONLY when BOTH ex-partners support the other parent and respect their right to have a good relationship with the children. Unfortunately, many people can't get past the anger, and therefore aren't able to co-parent successfully.
Q. So how do people get to that mental place that allows them to co-parent effectively day in and day out?
A. The number one key to successful co-parenting is to keep the focus on the children at all times! Parents must put their child's needs above their needs. Co-parenting can certainly be a trying time for most people. You'll have to figure out how things work best, BUT as long as your children's needs come first, you'll be on the right track. Parents need to figure out how to drop whatever bitterness they have from the split and focus primarily on doing what is best for their child.
Q. That sounds a lot easier said than done. Are there any strategies that may help people do that?
First, find a friend or therapist to discuss and work through your feelings. By venting to an outside person, you may avoid venting to the children. Children deserve to have a relationship with both parents and shouldn't be subjected to listening to trash talk about either of their parents.
Second, to help stay child-focused, look at photographs and other special items featuring your child. Such items will remind you why it is important to find a way to co-parent successfully.
Q. Isn't communicating with each other an important component of co-parenting?
A. Absolutely! Communicating is the number two key to co-parenting. Communicating with an ex-partner is going to be necessary for the length of your children's childhood into young adulthood....it may include special events, school celebrations, graduations, and maybe weddings! It is in your child's best interest if you focus on exchanging information and cooperation with one another so you can make good decisions about your child. It's crucial that your child see both parents working together for their well-being.
Q. What are some benefits of co-parenting to the children?
A. 1. They have a sense of security having a close relationship with both parents.
2. They learn how to cooperate by watching both parents cooperate.
3. They have good problem solving skills because they've watched their parents resolve problems effectively.
Q. What if the parent is really struggling to co-parent with their ex-partner.........do you have any tips to make things a little easier?
A. Stay off the phone. Emotions can run rampant. Stick to texts and emails.
Don't respond to everything. You don't have to attend every argument you are invited to.
Look at your ex through your child's eyes. Empathy is a great stress reducer and this may help to shift your perspective.
Control yourself and your response. That's all you can do. You may not like what your ex is doing with the kids, and let's not even talk about what he fed the kids last night, but it is out of
Expect changes and be flexible. Your ex wants the kids for New Years, so you get them extra
hours on Christmas, which is actually more meaningful to you anyway.
Q. What can parents do to help their children live happily in two homes?
- Reassure them that they have two parents who love them very much.
- Maintain a cordial, business-like relationship with your ex. Given the wonderful technological world in which we live in, there are lots of ways to communicate without being face to face.
- Help your kids anticipate changes and moving houses. Buy duplicates or help them pack.
- Be consistent with the parenting time schedule. The least changes, the better when young.
- Attempt to set routines for daily life in each home. Aim for consistency with house rules at each house, bedtimes, etc...
- Show enthusiasm or at least be neutral about your child seeing the other parent.
Q. What about when the co-parents take very different approaches on how to handle things?
A. There are a few things to consider before deciding to HOLD FIRM or LET GO.
- Safety issues - most you shouldn't let go
- Core values - most you can't let go...whether it's related to character, religion, or educational, you need to communicate these to your ex-partner, but remember they'll have their own core values for you to consider as well.
- Personal preference or individual style - this is where you need to be flexible and show compromise. When you hear "Dad lets us watch..." or "Mom lets us eat...", simply respond, "At our house, ......", without commentary on how it is handled elsewhere.
- Personal life - you are no longer in a intimate relationship so you no longer get to weigh in on their personal life. How they dress, what car they buy, and where they vacation are none of your concern. The good news: your personal life is also not up for discussion. Each of you is allowed to handle your adult life as you see fit, again, unless it adversely affects the children. Save your energy for issues that really matter and for living the life you want to live.