Divorce is difficult enough for parents, but it often proves especially painful for children. While you and your spouse recognize that dissolving your marriage is the right option for your family, your child likely feels confused, anxious, and overwhelmed. They may be angry with you for splitting up, afraid of what the future holds, or even blame themselves for the divorce. Parenting is never easy, and you probably feel powerless to help your child when you’re already struggling yourself. However, the way they feel depends greatly on how you choose to handle the divorce and everything that comes after.
The most important thing you can do is focus on developing a positive, respectful, and cooperative relationship with your ex so you can both play important and meaningful roles in your child’s life.
What Is Co-Parenting?
Co-parenting refers to a form of parenting relationship in which two parents are not romantically involved but assume joint responsibility for the socialization, care, and upbringing of their child. In many cases, co-parenting occurs after a divorce, legal separation, or break-up between parents who both want to maintain active contact with their children and provide the advantages that two parents can offer. Successful co-parenting provides comfort, consistency, and security for your child, ensuring their needs are met and building a solid foundation for their healthy development.
What Are the Benefits of Co-Parenting?
Children benefit by both experiencing and witnessing strong coparenting. They are often called “sponges” because of how significantly their growing minds are affected by their surroundings. High parental stress is associated with less responsive and affectionate parenting and various negative outcomes for children, including social withdrawal, low self-esteem, and behavioral problems. When you can balance the tremendous responsibilities of parenthood by sharing them with another person you trust, this reduces your stress and makes you a more patient and supportive parent. In turn, this creates a more positive living environment and improves your child’s resilience to stress, which is crucial for their mental health and well-being.
You and your co-parent are role models for your child and instrumental in how they perceive the world around them. You can count on them watching how you interact, absorbing what they see, and using it to understand how relationships work. Showing them that you can engage in productive, civil communication even during undesirable situations demonstrates that you are willing to engage in open and honest communication and will work as a team to navigate any issues. This models appropriate behavior, provides reassurance, and teaches them how to effectively resolve challenges they face. Ultimately, your co-parenting relationship establishes a pattern that your child will follow when they enter their own adult relationships.
How Do I Co-Parent the Right Way?
Co-parenting is not always easy, but the tips below can help you start off on the right foot:
- Separate Your Feelings From Your Behavior
You must first set aside the anger, pain, resentment, and other negative emotions you feel for your ex to fully focus on the needs of your child. This is arguably the hardest part of co-parenting, but it is absolutely vital for success. Remember that parenting is not about your feelings or your ex’s feelings, but the happiness and well-being of your child. It can be useful to imagine that you are starting a completely new relationship, but with your child as the focus rather than your romantic attachment. This is not to say you should avoid or suppress your feelings. You can vent to your friends, family members, therapists, or anyone else who will listen, but never share these frustrations with your child or give them the power to dictate your behavior.
- Don’t Put Your Child in the Middle
Remind yourself that any issues you have with your ex or the failure of your marriage are your issues, not your child’s. You may be honest about the family’s situation or what to expect moving forward, but do not burden them with unnecessary information or details they simply cannot handle. Never say negative things about your co-parent, insult them, question their love for your child, or in any way make them feel as if they have to choose between the two of you. Do not attempt to influence your child’s relationship with their parent — they have the right to form their own opinions without your feedback. Never use your child to share messages with your co-parent. If you have a question or concern to raise, contact your co-parent directly.
- Learn How to Communicate
It may be challenging to communicate with your co-parent, but remember that your child’s well-being is the most important thing to consider. Commit to routine check-ins where you can discuss any issues or decisions to be made. Before every conversation, ask yourself how your words will affect your child. Strive to conduct yourself with purpose, dignity, and grace. Keep your conversations focused solely on your child, speak clearly and respectfully at all times, and listen attentively to make sure you understand their point of view.
Try framing your statements as requests so they are not misinterpreted as demands. If you have trouble speaking with your ex in person, you can exchange texts, send emails, or speak over the phone — whatever has the lowest chance of resulting in conflict.
- Aim for Consistency
Consistency is key for avoiding confusion and preventing disagreements. Be clear about rules, discipline, and schedules. You don’t need to have the exact same rules in both households, but rules about homework, bedtime, curfews, off-limits activities, and other important lifestyle issues should be consistent. Establish clear consequences for breaking rules and hold them accountable, whether they happened at your house or your co-parent’s. For example, if your child loses internet privileges for a week at your ex’s, keep this restriction in place when they visit your home as well. Try to keep your child’s schedule consistent in terms of meals, homework time, and other daily activities to make the adjustment easier for them when transitioning between homes.
Regardless of the relationship you have with your co-parent, parenting must be a strong and supportive partnership in which you both prioritize your child’s best interests over your individual preferences. By following the tips above, you can rebuild trust between you and your ex, learn to respectfully resolve any disagreements that may arise, and set yourself up for years of co-parenting success. If you have questions about child custody or visitation, contact Stange Law Firm to speak with our attorneys about your case.