Many challenges of co-parenting post-divorce are universal whether you have an amicable divorce or not. Other more unique challenges are faced by those emerging from a contentious divorce and custody battle.
The key to peaceful co-parenting post-divorce lies in keeping the focus on what is best for the kids. I article I address both the logistics and emotions of co-parenting with a person you were unable to stay married to.
On the logistical front, there are a number of issues that if addressed and agreed to upfront allow for a significantly more peaceful co-parenting experience:
1. Mutual Respect: Each parent respects the other parent in words and actions; NEVER use the children as a liaison to communicate with the other parent.
2. Education Agreement: Children will attend school on time, well-rested, fed and prepared for their day. They will have a time and place to study and complete their homework – with parent’s guidance if necessary. Textbooks, musical equipment, etc. are at the appropriate house for homework. Parents agree on how they will manage teacher conferences, school events, etc.
3. Shared Information: Each parent is well informed when the other is taking the children on vacation, away for the weekend, out of town/the country. Vacations with the children involve appropriate notice, sharing details location and contact information in case of emergency.
4. Health Care: Ensure doctor and dentist appointments are kept, information is shared and difficult decisions about medication and procedures are made in the best interest of the children.
5. Rules and Consequences: An agreement to enforce similar rules and consequences regardless of whose house the children are at.
6. Extracurricular Activities: Commitment to the children being prepared and on time for practices, games, recitals, concerts, etc; ensuring equipment is at the right house; both parents are aware of the schedule, location, contact information.
7. Social: Each parent has names and numbers of the children’s friends for playdates, invitations for birthday parties, etc.
Minimizing the Chaos
Married parents can get overwhelmed with all the dates, times, locations, activities, responsibilities and commitments of today’s busy children. Living in separate households can turn overwhelm into chaos.
I cannot tell you how many times in the early years of my divorce we were running late for soccer practice only to find out that my daughter’s cleats and shin guards were at daddy’s or worse, in daddy’s car and he wasn’t home!! Chaos ensued…tensions rose, we all got upset, accusations were flung back and forth…all over a soccer practice.
The same can happen with a textbook at the wrong house the night before a big test. Or the perfect pair of shoes or sweater for her cute outfit is at mommy’s house and no one scheduled in the mad rush across town before school starts…a tough way to begin the day.
One of the most amazing tools that saved my sanity was using an online scheduling program that enabled me to post our shared parenting schedule, the names and phone numbers of pediatricians, friends, coaches, etc. Our Family Wizard offers a one stop location for all the details of co-parenting. You can use one platform to communicate with your ex about changes in schedule, the cost of shared expenses, need for assistance in driving the kids to this weekend’s activities, etc. All without the need for dozens of phone calls back and forth.
Having Two…When Possible
The second aha for me and my ex was that while we only lived 10 blocks away, we were constantly driving to the other’s house before school, practice or tests. We realized the need and value in having DOUBLES…certain items in both households.
EQUIPMENT…having two sets of equipment (when affordable) makes life much easier. When that is not possible, having a special bag that is always packed and by the front door ready to go to mommy’s or daddy’s house keeps everyone calmer – and is great practice for the kids to learn to be organized and prepared (have your kids do it at an early age!!)
TEXTBOOKS…many schools deal are all to used to dealing with children from divorced families and will provide you with a textbook for each home. For those that cannot, creating a system ie. a packing list can reduce stress dramatically.
Note: Parenting children with special needs creates an even greater stress on both households. It’s not just the children, but the parents as well that need support and tool and there are amazing resources available for you.
All this being said, if you are in or emerging from a contentious divorce, many of these cooperative co-parenting strategies may seem like an impossibility. If communication with your ex often results in criticism, accusation, blame, and bitterness, make sure to read Co-parenting: Take Off Your Armor And Put Down Your Sword.