Divorce is often a period fraught with emotions and uncertainties. While divorce is difficult for anyone involved, parents bear a special burden. Divorcing parents face the tremendous challenge of having to go through the divorce while still continuing to co-parent their children with their soon-to-be ex. For many, co-parenting while you are going through a bitter divorce may seem unmanageable. However, by following some simple tips and committing yourself to being the best co-parent possible, you can help to ensure your children thrive during and after the divorce.
The Importance of Effectively Co-Parenting
Co-parenting during a divorce is not any easy undertaking, but it is well worth the effort. Co-parenting involves having both parents play an active role in the lives of the child. Co-parenting in a positive manner will lead to many beneficial long term effects, including:
• Children feeling loved by both parents and knowing that they matter
• Children feeling they can openly communicate with their parents and others
• Children feeling more secure and less stressed by the divorce
• Both parents are more likely to continue to play an active role in the child’s life
• Co-parenting models effective problem solving to the child
• Co-parenting reduces conflict levels For all of these reasons and many others, attempting to co-parent even in the midst of divorce is a goal that all divorcing parents should strive to achieve.
Steps for Successful Co-Parenting1. Create a Co-Parenting Agreement
Even with an understanding of the tremendous benefits of effective co-parenting, it can be quite challenging for divorcing parents to work together at a time of heightened emotions. As such, one of the first steps you should consider taking is drafting a parenting plan or agreement. A parenting plan will turn your co-parenting relationship with your soon-to-be ex into a business arrangement. This tends to reduce emotions and arguments.
Your parenting plan will set out your basic custody schedule. It can be prepared with the assistance of your attorney. A good parenting plan will include the following:
• When each parent will spend time with the child
• How and where exchanges will be made
• How decisions about the child will be made
• How the parents will communicate with one another
• Who will spend time with the child on what holidays
• How parenting issues will be solved
• The process for changing the parenting plan
Your parenting agreement should act as a guiding force for your successful co-parenting. While the schedule set out in the parenting plan should generally govern, allow for some flexibility should issues or emergencies arise.
2. Support Your Child’s Relationship With the Other Parent
Unless your family has encountered serious issues, such as substance abuse or domestic violence, co-parenting is generally considered to be in the best interests of the child. While you likely had many valid reasons for filing for divorce from your spouse, it is important that you set aside these issues when it comes to co-parenting. Perhaps the toughest challenge you will face when co-parenting during a divorce is forcing yourself to support your child’s relationship with the other parent.
Being supportive of your ex’s relationship with your child may first require that you separate your feelings from your behavior. Never vent to your child about your spouse and never put the children in the middle. Do not use children as messengers. Rather, find an effective way to communicate with your spouse solely about the child. Allow your soon-to-be ex time with the child, so long as it is safe to do so. While none of these steps may come easy, focus on the end goal of having a confident child with a secure attachment to both parents.
3. Seek Out Support and Consider Therapy
It is easy to feel alone when you are struggling through a divorce and figuring out how to co-parent. Now is the time to reach out to others for support. Lean on friends and family members as an outlet to voice your frustrations, concerns, and ideas. Allowing yourself trustworthy and understanding adults to talk to about the divorce will help you to avoid airing your anger to the children.
At times, new co-parents will need professional support. Family therapy can involve you alone, your children, your soon-to-be ex, or potentially all of you together. A professional therapist will assist you in finding ways to communicate respectfully to the other parent. Your children could additionally benefit from being able to openly express their feelings about the divorce to a neutral person.
Throughout the divorce process, your divorce attorney will be a wealth of knowledge and a sounding board for your concerns. Your attorney will prove instrumental in helping you to prepare a thorough parenting agreement that will reduce conflict and set the stage for effective co-parenting. Remember that the co-parenting relationship you develop during the divorce will likely continue far beyond, so creating a positive co-parenting relationship now will serve your family well for years to come.