Divorce can be a messy and hurtful time, and even more difficult if children are involved. However, unless there is domestic abuse involved, co-parenting is the best way to help children cope with the entire divorce process. Co-parenting is when both parents are actively involved in the daily lives of the children and fosters a healthy relationship with children and their parents. While it is better for the mental health of the child, co-parenting with a person you no longer want to associate with can be extremely difficult and frustrating for the adults. With a few tips and things to keep in mind over the next few years, you can make the joint custody work and find peace with your children.
1. Set Aside Personal Emotions
While you are going through a divorce, emotional moments are just part of the ordeal. It’s unfortunate, but they’re inevitable. Anger, frustration, and resentment all have a way of springing up at the worst times. Despite this, it is vital for your child’s health that you set aside your personal emotions while you are working with your ex to raise the children. The best thing to do is not focus on your emotions, but rather your children’s situation and funneling your efforts into providing them with a stable environment. In some situations, as the law firm KoonsFuller describes, children can even have a say in which parent they wish to live with. It’s one of the worst moments for divorcees where personal emotions can override rational thought.
When you start to feel your emotions rise, make sure you focus on your kids. This includes looking at artwork or photos of your children, anything that will help ground your feelings to handle the situation in a manner where they will not be hurt. It is important to not use your children as a messenger with your ex-spouse, even when you do not want to speak with your former partner. Your children should never be put in the middle or let them see the negative emotions you are feeling.
2. Keep Communication Open
One of the main reasons you do not want your children to be the messenger is co-parenting is only successful with open communication between the parents. Before you contact your ex, think only about how the conversation will affect your child. The only thing you need to converse with the other parent should be child-related. Communication does not have to be in person, so use whatever method you feel most comfortable with, but keep to the point.
The best way to keep communication peaceful is by using professional tone, keep your requests clear, and make sure you listen to the responses. Your child can be viewed as a business, as you are wanting only the best for your child. In addition, it is best to not word things as demands, but rather a request. Then, after you make the request, listen to what he/she has to say. This will allow both parents to have a clear idea of the point of view the other parent is coming from, even if there is no agreement on the issue.
What you will find with open communication with your ex, is you will improve the relationship with him/her. While this does not mean you love your ex, it does show your children that you respect the person you were with and who they trust. It will show your children that they can disagree and not like someone, and still be able to work through conflicts.
3. Work as a Team
Children were created by two people coming together, and they are raised the same way. Working as a team, even if you are not living in the same place, should continue as your child grows. This means making sure you know how the other parent feels and keeping everything consistent regardless of the residence. If you maintain the same expectations, you will see less resistance from the children and they will not be successful in manipulating the parents against each other. Some of the key areas of teamwork include rules, discipline, education and medical decisions, schedules, and finances.
- Rules – The first area of teamwork is definitely ruling that is set in place for the household. While they do not need to be identical, they should be relatively the same. These rules include activities and homework expectations, as well as any curfews or time-limits set for electronics.
- Disciplining – Along with setting similar rules for both households, the disciplining of the child should be the same. If the children are old enough, consider holding a mutual meeting with both parents and the children to discuss proper consequences to breaking the rules. This will show your children that everyone is on the same page and everyone’s opinions are important. It will also show a unity between the parents so children will know what to expect and not try to manipulate a situation.
- Medical/Educational Decisions – Any decisions regarding your child’s medical or educational needs should be done with open communication and agreement from both parents. This will prevent a parent from feeling left out, but it also means both parents should attend things together. It is important to remain civil with each other while at the events or appointments so your child is not put in an awkward situation.
- Schedules – Children thrive on consistency, so it is only natural that you should make sure the child’s schedule remains consistent no matter where they are living. This includes mealtime, homework time, and bedtime.
- Financial – Working as a team includes making sure the other parent never feels lesser because they cannot provide the same things. Make sure you communicate who will provide for what with the child’s rising, but also make sure you set a budget for gifts and allowances that both parents can meet.
It is obvious that you will likely not agree on everything, otherwise, you would still be married. However, you can show respect for the other person and take differing opinions with an open mind. If you cannot agree on a topic, sometimes it is best to table the discussion and revisit it when both parties have cooled off and can come back to the issue with calm words. When this does not work, consider using a mediator to help the issue reach resolution that both parents can agree on.
4. Work to make Visitations Easier
Transitioning from one house to another is not easy for the children, especially if they are only seeing one parent for a few hours a week or month. It is important for both parents to work to make visitations easier on the children. The first step to this is having a set time for arrival and pick-up and stick to them. Make sure your child is ready to go with everything they need, including reminding them a day or two in advance of the visitation.
When it comes to transportation of the child, parents should set up a drop off policy. This means the parent should drop off the child to the parent with visitation, and then when visitation ends, that parent returns the child. When the child gets to your house, spend some time with your child and let them adjust to the change. Finally, consider having a routine that you stick to when your child first arrives and right before they leave to make the transition more enjoyable. If you are struggling with a child that does not want to visit the other parent, it is important that you find the route cause to the refusal. After discovering the cause, work patiently with your child and the other parent to help your child become comfortable and excited about visitation again.
Children feed off of emotions and actions of others, as well as learn from their parents on how to handle hard situations. When parents cannot work together, children will suffer in social situations. The more stable of an environment parents can create for their children, they will do better at school and face fewer mental struggles, such as anxiety and depression.