How Can I Co-Parent Effectively With My Ex?
Your divorce is final. The property is divided and both you and your former spouse have gone through a healing process. You have children together and now the real work of co-parenting post-divorce begins.
Co-parenting can be difficult even in the best of circumstances. As any parent will tell you, being a parent is some of the most gratifying and challenging work you will ever have. When parents must raise children in two different households, it can be problematic if not handled well.
Here are 11 tips for co-parenting effectively with your former spouse including developing plans and coping skills to effectively deal with the trials and tribulations of parenting. The law favors parents who encourage continuing contact with the other parent and a stable environment for the minor child.
- Your friends, family members, and co-workers do not always know what is best for you in terms of co-parenting. Every situation is different. What worked in one divorced parent’s parenting plan will not necessarily work in yours. You have to make your own decisions and use your best judgment. If you need guidance, speak with a therapist, a trusted advisor or your attorney who can be more objective.
- Always treat your former spouse with respect and do not bad mouth or otherwise berate your former spouse in front of your children. This includes third parties such as friends, relatives, and new spouses who are in your children’s sphere of influence. This is true even in the worst of circumstances. If one spouse has a substance abuse problem or is abusive, for example, there is an appropriate time and place to speak with your children about it. You can enlist the assistance of an attorney, therapist or a guidance counselor or appropriate professional if necessary. This does not mean if one parent is an alcoholic, for example, or there is abuse involved that you should not discuss it with your children, but that the conversation should be handled in the appropriate manner to ensure your children’s safety and well-being.
- Encourage your children to have a healthy relationship with both parents. This includes spending quality time together, honoring family activities, not competing with the other parent for children’s affection, and not airing your grievances about your former spouse to your children.
- Reassure your children that they are loved by both parents and make clear to your children that your divorce is not your children’s fault or responsibility. Children often feel torn between parents in a divorce or that they can do something to repair a broken relationship. That is an unreasonable stress to place on a child. Make clear to your children that having parents in two different households does not affect how both parents feel about them. Use family therapy or other support systems if necessary. Children do not always adapt to divorce right away and may be struggling with their own internal issues.
- If a parent has a substance abuse or domestic violence problem, or is involved in a series of unhealthy relationships or lifestyles, these need to be addressed privately with the other parent. This can be done through therapists, counseling, a spiritual advisor, or attorneys. There are many avenues to do so, not all of which require litigation or a contested proceeding. Your children’s safety and well-being must be the priority.
- Treat your former spouse’s partner, new spouse or romantic interest with respect. The important thing is that your children are being well cared for. It is not unusual when a new romantic interest or spouse enters the picture that tensions rise between former spouses. This does not have to be the case. Effective co-parenting requires treating your former spouse’s romantic interest or new partner well and accepting that the new person may become an important part of your children’s lives. You want your former spouse to be in a healthy relationship. It is a sign of maturity.
- Your former spouse’s extended family is part of your children’s family and an important part of your children’s lives (or should be). Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and their friends can be an important support system for your children … and for you. Encourage your children to have relationships with extended family and friends, as appropriate.
- Do not try to be the ‘fun parent’, compete with your former spouse or try to buy your children’s affections. It does not work. Effective co-parenting requires both parents to make sure that your children are clean, well-groomed, on time for school and activities, do their homework, make time for their friends, and treat people with respect. It is still a shared responsibility. It is just done in two different households.
- Plan ahead and have an open line of communication with your former spouse about your children’s school, health care, their friends, their extra-curricular activities, future planning for education, living expenses, events such as learning to drive, travel, and your children’s interests. This is not always easy, particularly if one or both spouses are still embittered about the divorce or the issues that gave rise to it. This does not mean that you have to be best friends with your former spouse, but you were married once. You have to do your best to maintain some type of relationship with your former spouse for purposes of co-parenting.
- Be flexible and reasonable. If one parent needs you to pick up your children from school and you are able, do it. If one parent wants to trade visitation days, oblige them. If one parent wants to travel with the children to visit their grandparents, let them (provided that it is stable and safe). Events such as these will happen and the more flexible you can be, the more likely it is you will have a good co-parenting relationship with your ex and your children.
- Respect each other’s differences. People are different and it stands to reason that parenting styles will differ in separate households. Different does not necessarily mean wrong or that one is better than the other. As long as it is a stable, healthy environment for your children, it is best not to interfere with the other parent’s parenting time or style.
We have decades of experience with separated, divorcing, and former spouses. We can share the lessons we have learned about Connecticut co-parenting with you. Call us at 203-936-6772.