When you go through a
divorce, you may have zero desire to see your ex again, but when you have children
together, you don’t have much of a choice in the matter. You may
find yourself in situations (think births, birthdays, weddings, funerals,
and holidays) where you have to occupy the same space periodically.
And while your children are under the age of 18, you have to set your differences
aside and focus on creating a healthy co-parenting relationship that is
as stress-free as possible. Co-parenting does NOT necessarily come naturally
or easily. It may take a lot of effort on both of your parts, but it’s
definitely worth it for your children’s sake.
Co-Parenting the First Year
Before we dive into co-parenting for the first year, let’s take a
closer look at what it means to “co-parent.” In
Psychology Today, Deborah Serani Psy.D. wrote, “Co-parenting, sometimes called joint
parenting or shared parenting, is the experience of raising children as
a single parent when separation or divorce occurs.
“Often a difficult process, co-parenting is greatly influenced by
the reciprocal interactions of each parent. So, if you're parenting
in a healthy way but your Ex isn't, your children will be at risk
for developmental problems. Same goes if you're being too permissive
and your Ex is too stern.”
Serani went on to explain how co-parenting requires three key ingredients:
patience, empathy, and open communication, and we have to agree with her.
This can be a difficult thing for exes to achieve, especially when they
have had marital issues. However, she says that when you place a sole
focus on your children, it can be a great way for you to make co-parenting
a “positive experience.”
If you’re just getting started on this co-parenting deal and it’s
new, you’ll want to find ways to make it a positive and successful
experience. If you’re not sure where to begin, we have some actionable
tips that should help get you started in the right direction:
- Help your children feel secure. Divorce can make a child feel unstable
in their home life, and this can affect their studies and their friendships.
If your child feels like “everything is changing” and it’s
clearly affecting them, start by establishing consistent routines at home
and school. Set a schedule and stick to it. This will help them have some
stability and a sense of normalcy.
- Adopt consistent schedules and routines at both homes as much as possible.
For example, adopt the same rules, bedtimes, and disciplinary actions
at both homes so your child knows what to expect.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Open, honest communication with
your ex is essential to a successful co-parenting relationship. If you
don’t want to call your ex every time your child has a game or class
or is having an issue at school, you can use another form of communication,
such as email or text. However you choose to communicate with each other,
keep it light and positive. Let your ex talk, listen to what they have
to say, keep it civil and expect the same treatment in return.
- When you do talk, text, or email your ex, keep the conversation all about
the kids. Focus on the children and their needs and avoid bringing up
your ex’s faults, your marriage, or anything else that will bring
the conversation down. Whatever you do, avoid fighting with your ex in
front of your children.
“Ultimately, effective co-parenting helps mitigate the social and
emotional consequences of a divorce or separation. Co-parenting does not
take away all of the pain of a split, but it does reduce the damage and
provides a safe environment in which children can successfully integrate
the sadness of the breakup into their development,” Mary McCoy,
LMSW, a licensed social worker wrote in
McCoy said it really well when she said that “healthy co-parenting
is the next best thing to a happy and intact home with both parents.”
But she had another excellent point. She brought up how successful co-parenting
requires consistent communication between ex-partners, but that’s
not always possible.
When You Have a High-Conflict Family
When one spouse was emotionally or physically abusive during the marriage,
the innocent spouse needs to hire an attorney to help them with legal and
child custody issues, and they need to strictly limit their contact with their ex. In
domestic violence situations, it may be smart for the innocent spouse to seek sole custody
of their children so the kids aren’t being exposed to the abusive parent.
Sometimes, an ex-husband or wife is a great mother or father, but they’re
horrible at communication. In these cases, you may not want to seek sole
custody, but you may need to limit your direct communication with them
since it’s toxic and pointless.
If you do NOT get along with your ex and you have difficulty meeting eye-to-eye,
and you don’t feel emotionally safe when you communicate regularly,
co-parenting may not be practical. In volatile situations, a
parallel parenting approach may be more realistic.
“Unlike the heavy communication required of co-parenting, parallel
parenting requires essentially no communication. Each parent is given
singular jurisdiction over major decisions, such as medical or educational,
as part of the divorce proceedings, and the other parent is not allowed
to chime in with an opinion.
“Transfers of the child occur on neutral territory, such as a daycare
or restaurant, and no verbal interaction is allowed unless a third party
is present. This type of parenting plan is far from ideal, but it reduces
the emotional fallout of ongoing conflict, which is better for children
in the long run. A parallel parenting plan needs to be created with the
assistance of a mediator or lawyer,” says McCoy.
Co-Parenting Tips for the Holiday Season