Parenting together after a divorce challenges the most dedicated of parents. So many feelings get stirred up while we work through the difficulties of co-parenting. The following principles can help provide guidance for parents in being their best selves following a divorce:
1. Be flexible
To the extent possible, accommodate minor custody changes needed by the other parent. Being flexible allows everyone to get their needs met. This does not mean unduly inconveniencing yourself or your child, or being a doormat for an unreasonable ex.
2. Take the high road and keep your cool
Even if you are unhappy with your ex’s behavior, take the high road. Who do you want to be? What are your modeling for your co-parent? For your kids? Avoid escalating conflict for the benefit of your child, by noticing when emotions are running high and waiting before acting on them. (Such as – have a policy of letting all emotion-laden emails rest in your “Drafts” Folder for a day before sending.)
3. Pick your battles
Consider when it is constructive to bring up concerns with your ex, and when it will cause a fight that you can’t win. Some parents can coordinate rules, agree on homework expectations, etc. But if you have a less cooperative co-parenting relationship, be realistic about what will be accomplished by a discussion and save it for when it matters. There will be times when, despite your best efforts, your ex will say “no,” won’t cooperate, won’t respond or participate. At those times, grieving that which you cannot have may be a hard but necessary road to peace of mind.
4. Whose battle is it, anyway?
When a problem arises, spend some time to determine who is the best person to solve it. If the problem is primarily between your ex and your child, support him or her in addressing it with the other parent rather than stepping in.
5. Communicate directly with your ex to the best of your ability, or directly with your children’s providers (teachers, doctors, etc.)
Communicate with your co-parent rather than passing messages through your child. Communicate in a factual, business-like manner. A voicemail or email on “switch day” can cover information about homework, medical information, current disciplinary issues, and upcoming events or needed supplies. If contact = conflict, then you can communicate with your children’s providers directly. When making requests, do so in simple and direct language. If your ex tends not to reply or to say “no,” consider in advance what you will do in these cases and whether to let them know in advance what you will do in these instances.
6. Provide both love and limits
Kids need nurturing as well as structure and stability, especially during stressful times. Maintain consistent routines, and set and enforce firm and fair rules, even when it’s hard. Consistency helps children feel secure. Age-appropriate responsibilities build life skills and empower kids to find solutions.
7. Make it easy for your child to have what he/she needs
To the extent possible, have everything your child needs at both homes, rather than expecting your child to transport what he/she needs. Schools will provide extra copies of textbooks for their second home. Kids should have age-appropriate responsibility for managing their belongings among two homes.
There are no simple solutions when it comes to the long, hard road of parenting after divorce. It is so important that you make space for all the emotions that are triggered by interacting with your ex-partner. Getting support from friends, family or a therapist can make the path an easier one. Making an effort to apply these principles, and having compassion for yourself when you inevitably fall short of complete success, is a step toward successful co-parenting.
This article was written by Meri Levy, M.A., MFT and Lena Glaser, M.A.