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 Money Crashers.
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.