Strategies to Better Survive Co-Parenting
Divorced or separated parents know all too well that raising kids across two homes isn’t exactly easy. Communication and cooperation can help make co-parenting run smoothly overall, but for many co-parents, these two things alone can be difficult enough. When co-parents cannot find a neutral middle ground to raise their kids from, the children suffer in turn. Co-parenting after divorce shouldn't only be about finding a way to survive alone through the hard times. It should also be about discovering new ways to thrive together within a new family structure. Co-parents who can find a way to set aside differences and communicate will be better able to help guide their kids through this tough time while also setting a positive example for how their kids should treat others and resolve conflicts.
As co-parents navigate their way through a divorce or separation, there are a number of things that they must focus on such as dividing assets, upcoming court dates, attorney fees, and so much more. With all of these things weighing on their minds, it is sometimes possible for other important matters to receive less attention. Just like their parents, kids have big things weighing on their mind as well. In their book, The Co-Parenting Survival Guide: Letting Go of Conflict After a Difficult Divorce, Elizabeth Thayer Ph.D. and Jeffrey Zimmerman Ph.D. describe the effects of divorce on children: “It may be hard to remember this, but children’s needs intensify during a divorce. They feel the stress and they experience the conflict. Their lives are turned upside down. They didn’t ask for the divorce, but they’re subjected to seeing the two people they love most engaged in a bloodless but at times bitter and devastating battle.” The last thing that parents want is for their actions to have negative repercussions on their children, so it is important that parents take certain actions in order to guide their kids away from the harm and trauma sometimes caused by divorce.
To help your kids (as well as yourself) survive this troublesome time, create a calm and secure environment for your kids to live in across both your and your co-parent's home. It is important that your kids feel comfortable in each home, and creating this kind of environment will involve setting certain ground rules for you and your co-parent to follow. Some of these rules should be concerned with how you and your co-parent communicate with each other. Co-parents should agree not to say negative things about each other in front of the kids. Doing so can make children feel confused and conflicted, wondering if they are being asked to choose sides between their two parents. It is unfair for co-parents to put children in this situation when all that kids want is to love both of their parents equally. Another ground rule for co-parent communication is to be cordial when speaking with one another. As discussed by Dr. Thayer and Dr. Zimmerman, co-parents must remember to consistently act in a way that demonstrates positive behavior between adults. The way in which co-parents treat each other will be reflected by their children, as they will treat their parents and other adults in a similar manner. Parents are their children’s first and most influential role models, so it will be important for co-parents to set good examples of what respect and common decency looks like.
Along with treating each other with a certain level of respect, co-parents should also set a rule to only discuss sensitive topics at designated times via specified platforms. For some co-parents, it is possible for a discussion about something like discrepancies in the parenting schedule to turn into an argument, and having this talk in front of the kids will likely just lead to further conflict down the line--not to mention added pain for the children. Conversations that could easily lead to conflict between parents are best saved for another time and place, far from earshot of the kids. Using email or another messaging platform specifically tuned to document co-parenting communication will be a more appropriate and secure place to have discussions about sensitive topics. Co-parents should remember to maintain the same level of cordiality between each other in these private conversations as they would when speaking in front of the kids. If co-parents are in an especially tough spot when it comes to communication, employing the help of a neutral family law professional such as a mediator can be indispensable when it comes to making decisions and resolving conflicts. Also, a co-parenting class may be a great help to those parents who want to be able to communicate amicably but just cannot given their current communication strategies. Many co-parenting classes will give parents not only strategies and tips in regards to communication, but they will also teach co-parents about the effects of divorce on kids and ways to help guide their kids through this tough time.
Divorce and separation doesn't just affect the people who are breaking up; it affects all of those around them, especially their children. Co-parenting after divorce is a difficult task in itself, but it becomes further complicated when constant conflict and hostile communication are a consistent problem. It should be kept in mind that the number one responsibility in co-parenting is to continue to act as a pair of positive role models and loving caregivers for the kids. When co-parents are able to do this and work together as partners in co-parenting, the whole family should have a better chance to not just survive, but to thrive within the new family structure.
Thayer, E., & Zimmerman, J. (2001) The Co-Parenting Survival Guide: Letting Go of Conflict After a Difficult Divorce. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.