10 Positive Co-Parenting Tips
Separating or going through a divorce is one of life’s most difficult passages. Working with your co-parent on how to raise healthy, loving and stable children despite your split is another difficult task. But it is doable, as many happy adult children of divorced parents can attest to. Here are ten positive co-parenting tips that will help you work with your co-parent to provide your children with a balanced and happy upbringing, even if you are no longer all living under the same roof.
- Whatever your issues are with your co-parent, put your children’s well-being on the front burner, always. Divorcing couples often say this is the hardest concept to remember, especially if the divorce is messy. But making your children’s security and sense of stability a priority is key to a “successful” divorce. So do whatever it takes to place them first, even if this means working with a family therapist to help you and your co-parent bring the conversation back to what is best for the children when your marital issues start to heat up the discussion.
- Find the most effective way to communicate about the children. If face-to-face discussion with your co-parent is not possible at this time (one or both of you are too angry or upset to talk in person reasonably), agree that speaking “live” just isn’t working for you right now. You may have to use other, less emotional means for sharing information about the children such as by way of an online co-parenting communication tool. Whatever you decide to do, make sure your communication avenues as they relate to the children’s welfare remain open. Do not shut these down in a move to punish your co-parent. Not sharing information regarding the children only hurts the children, and does not set a good example when they see adults using the “silent treatment” as a weapon against each other.
Re-evaluate your communication from time to time, to see if you are at a point on the divorce timeline where you can communicate in person without upsetting each other. The goal is to get back to speaking terms, as it sends a positive message to the children that you can communicate civilly as co-parents.
- Be on the same page for the "Big Stuff". The best case scenario in co-parenting is for both parents to be consistent and in agreement with rules regarding behavior and discipline, bedtimes, homework, screen time, playtime, personal hygiene, and household chores. Your children needed these clearly defined rules when you and your co-parent were together; they need them even more now so they feel safe and secure when things appear to be falling apart around them. Do not fall into the trap of competing for your children’s affections by being the “easy, cool parent” who lets them decide when to do their homework or take a shower. It will only serve to add to their sense of instability (even if, at the time, they may react as if you have just given them unlimited ice cream!).
- Once your parenting time arrangement is set, don’t fiddle with it. Treat that schedule as set in stone. It will help you organize your time, and it will help the children feel secure. Parents who modify the parenting time schedule too often or cancel their parenting time are doing a disservice to their children, even if they think they are teaching them to be flexible. Children need to feel that they can count on being with their parents on a regular basis, like every other weekend for example, and not have that changed at the last minute because one of their parents has to travel out of town suddenly. That being said, when a modification is absolutely necessary, have a plan for communicating and negotiating these kinds of changes with your co-parent.
- Don't speak negatively about your co-parent in front of your children. Reserve those conversations for when you are with adult friends. Or a therapist. Or your own parents. As hard as it may be, do not denigrate your co-parent in front of your children, and request the same respect from your co-parent. Be aware that your children will eventually gain a realistic view of both of you as they become adults, so if your co-parent is truly a bad person, they will come to that realization on their own without you having to say anything. Even so, experts agree that listening to one parent badmouth the other can be detrimental to children. Remember: wait until you are away from your children to talk badly about your co-parent if you need to. (This will also give you time to calm down and perhaps let it go.)
- Highlight your co-parent’s good points in your children’s presence. “Your dad is great at coaching your soccer team, isn’t he?” or “Your mom takes such beautiful photos of you guys!” are easy ways to show your children that despite your separation, you can still see the valuable things that your co-parent brings to the family. This makes the children feel safe, and feel like they too can freely speak well of the parent that isn’t present and not hurt your feelings.
- Practice empathy. In the early days of divorce, it will be hard to be empathetic towards your co-parent. So direct your empathy towards your children. Before you act, ask yourself how your children will perceive things. Are you about to call up your co-parent to vent about the late child-support payment? Imagine you are your child, listening to that conversation. Imagining their reaction to being a witness to this type of disagreement will be enough to help stop you from making that call, and communicate what you need to using other means that shield your children from any conflict that may ensue.
- Be the parent your children need you to be. As you move through this challenging time in your life, take a few minutes each day for self-care. This can be in the form of positive self-talk or something concrete, like exercising or a massage. Anything that reminds you that you are a valuable person and a good parent, even if the family dynamic is now changing. It is good for your children to see you doing a small thing for yourself, especially as self-care will allow you to continue to engage healthfully with them.
- As the family re-blends, agree on the roles the new partners may have with your children. Many family professionals recommend that until the new partners have a secure place in the family structure, they should not be involved in any of the mutual child-rearing decisions, nor should they communicate with the ex-partner on matters related to the children. As time passes, you and your co-parent will want to both agree upon how the new partners can best contribute to the decisions made that affect the children, always keeping your children’s well-being at the forefront.
- Forgiveness is powerful. It is surely not at the top of your to-do list when you are in the midst of a divorce, but once you are further away from this life-impacting event, work on forgiving yourself and your former spouse. It will help you in your healing and will show the children a powerful lesson in how resilient families are.
Author Bio: Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support, and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy, happy marriages and also provide information for those who are ending one. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google+ and Pinterest.