Co-parenting requires equal cooperation by both parents. If your spouse is abusive or unwilling to cooperate, you may need to take legal action or seek professional advice and counseling to find the best way forward for your own protection and for the wellbeing of your children.
It’s quite the understatement to say that divorce can be traumatizing to everyone involved. Many of our readers on marriage.com know all too well that the dissolution of a marriage and the breakup of a family can have serious consequence to the divorcing couple and the children they share. And while there are many issues on which divorcing couples will disagree, there is one thing that pretty much all of them will concur - they want to minimize any anxiety or anguish for their children - easier said than done for most couples.
Although the marriage is over and you are no longer a “husband” or a “wife,” your role as “mom” or “dad” is more important than ever. As the dust settles from the divorce, it is time to face the important challenges of co-parenting in the most constructive and beneficial way.
Here are 10 tips for positive co-parenting:
- The New Normal
Don’t despair and fall into the trap of thinking you have ruined your child’s life forever. For many children, life after divorce can be much better than living with the constant tension of parental conflict. Now, your child can have good quality time with each parent separately, which often works out to be a double blessing. Choose to see this as a new chapter or a new beginning or the “new normal” for you and your children and embrace the adventure of the co-parenting that lies ahead.
- Recognize the Roadblocks
The biggest obstacles to effective co-parenting are negative emotions such as anger, resentment, and jealousy. Allow yourself time to grieve the death of your marriage, and then get the help you need to work through your emotions. Don’t deny or try to suppress the way you are feeling – acknowledge and recognize your emotions, but also realize that they can hamper your co-parenting. So try to compartmentalize your feelings to an extent so that you can be there for your children and find the best co-parenting solution for them.
- Decide to Cooperate
Making the conscious decision to cooperate with your ex does not necessarily mean being friends. After all, the relationship between you and your ex is likely very scared, otherwise you wouldn’t be getting a divorce in the first place. But being collaborative for your child’s sake is not the same thing as being friends with your ex (even though that can, and often does, eventually happen.) Because of your turbulent history, you will need to take a conscious decision to co-parent constructively for the sake of your child. To put it simply, it comes down to loving your child more than you hate or dislike your ex.
- Work Out a Co-Parenting Plan
Once you have decided to co-operate, it is good to figure out a co-parenting plan that works for both of you, but especially for your children. To make sure they know their feelings are being heard, don’t forget to talk to your kids and listen to their ideas about how this new arrangement will work. You may be surprised at their opinions and how they see the way forward. This “planning” part covers a lot - visitation schedules, school, sports, holidays, special events and doctor’s appointments.
- Flexibility is Key
Now that you have a plan in place, know you will probably need to re-evaluate and re-adjust periodically. After all, baseball season schedule will be different than soccer season schedule and rehearsals for the school play will end after the final performance. Be prepared to be flexible as things change and unexpected circumstances arise - kids don’t always adhere to rigid schedules.
- Try to Enjoy Being Alone
Time apart from your kids can be really devastating and lonely at first. Don’t be hard on yourself, but slowly start to fill your alone time with activities you enjoy. You may even begin to look forward to having time for yourself, time to visit friends, get some rest and take part in hobbies you always wanted to try. So when your kids return you can feel refreshed and ready to welcome them back with renewed energy.
- Try to Be Cordial to the “New Friend”
It will be hard for sure, but if/when your ex starts dating or remarries, this new person will automatically be spending significant time with your children. This is probably one of the most difficult things to accept in co-parenting. However, it is truly in the best interest of your children to make every effort to communicate with this person. If you can share your concerns and expectations for your children, in an open and vulnerable way, without being defensive, it can go a long way to helping your children form a secure attachment with the new person as well as solidify the bond your children have with you and your ex.
- Be Respectful
Going forward in a constructive way means putting the past behind you and realizing that the co-parenting years ahead can be that much better if you both remain respectful and self-controlled in what you say and do. This includes what you say to your child when your ex-spouse is not present. Remember that your child loves both of you. With patience and perseverance, you can give (and hopefully receive in return) the dignity, courtesy, and respect that every person deserves.
- Synchronize your support group
We all need a support group, whether it’s family, friends, church members or colleagues. Once you start reaching out, you will realize how much help is available. And when it comes to the co-parenting, make sure that your support group is synchronized with your method and manner of relating to your ex, respectfully and cooperatively.
- Take care of yourself
Self-care is the first step towards healing, recovery, and restoration after divorce. If you want to co-parent constructively, you need to be the best that you can be, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Co-parenting requires equal cooperation by both parents. If your spouse is abusive or unwilling to cooperate, you may need to take legal action or seek professional advice and counseling to find the best way forward for your own protection and for the wellbeing of your children.
Malini Bhatia is the founder and CEO of marriage.com, a website dedicated to providing value in every marriage, including resources, information and a community that supports healthy, happy marriages. Bhatia has global experience in international management and communications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 11 years and two daughters.