When parents divorce, one of their first considerations is how they will dissolve their marriage while still effectively and amicably co-parenting their children. In most divorce cases, children do better when they can have a close relationship with each parent. While it isn’t easy, parents can still present a united front and work together to raise their children into responsible and productive adults. Here are some tips on working together for the benefit of your child by co-parenting.
Know When It’s Not Feasible
First, there are some cases where co-parenting is just not the best option. One is if your ex-spouse has been abusive to you or to your child. In this case, you should work with the court system to ask for whatever you need to stay safe and to keep your child safe. You might need a restraining order against your ex, for example. Or you might request that all visits are supervised, in which case you would usually have primary custody and a third party would supervise visitation with your child’s other parents. A substance addiction or untreated mental illness are other reasons that co-parenting might not work. Talk to your legal advocate about what you can do in these situations.
Focus on the Child, Not Your Feelings
It is natural that you might feel upset, hurt, disappointed, and angry about the circumstances that led to your divorce. You might have been betrayed by your spouse or you might have simply decided that you cannot live together any longer. Whatever the situation, now is the time to focus on your child and not on your feelings.
You might not want to maintain any sort of relationship with your ex, but it is your responsibility to co-parent with him or her so your child receives the benefits of having two parents who are vested in his or her well-being. If you start to feel angry or hurt, be sure to discuss your feelings with someone outside of the situation rather than letting them negatively impact the working relationship you now need to have with your ex-spouse.
Keep the Conversation About Your Child
When you talk to your ex, avoid getting into arguments about topics that don’t pertain to your child. Don’t bring up issues that you had while you were married or that have already been resolved. Instead, keep the conversation centered on your child. It might help to think about your co-parenting situation as a business arrangement. You would not normally talk to a client or customer about problems that you are having in your daily life or about what they do that annoys you. Think about your ex-spouse as a business partner with whom you don’t share much about your private life.
Use “I” Statements and Requests
There are going to be things your ex does that you don’t agree with. Instead of bringing them up in a defensive or offensive way, focus on phrasing your concerns in a way that doesn’t place blame. For example, instead of saying, “You are letting our daughter go off with friends neither of us has met and that’s irresponsible,” try saying something like, “I feel worried when our daughter is with friends that I don’t know. Would you mind meeting her friends before she goes out with them?”
Decide on Important Things Together
There are some issues that both parents need to be in agreement on. For example, if you have been advised that your child could benefit from an invasive medical procedure and it is not an emergency situation, you and your ex need to come together to speak to the doctor and make an informed decision. Another important issue is deciding whether your child will go to the local public school, a private school, or be homeschooled.
It is possible that the two of you will have very different ideas about how these types of decisions should be made, but it’s important that you calmly talk it out, bringing in an expert (such as the surgeon in the case of the medical procedure) as necessary. Speak respectfully and try to come up with a solution that is acceptable to both of you. In some cases, one of you might need to defer to the other, and in others, a judge or your divorce decree might hold the answer.
Decide to Let the Small Things Go
More often, the issues you will be handling are routine and not a big deal. Maybe in your house, your child needs to go to bed at 8:00 pm but in your ex’s house, bedtime is at 9:00. This is not an issue worth fighting about; just accept that the rules are different in the two houses. The same can be said when it comes to when homework is being done, which chores your child is expected to do, and the types of snack foods that the child can have. It might not be ideal to you that your ex lets your child eat ice cream every evening or that your child doesn’t have to make his or her bed while at the other parent’s home, but this counts as “small stuff” that you shouldn’t worry about.
Make Transitions Easier
Finally, it is important to make transitions as easy as possible for your child. Agree with your ex on which items must stay in which home and which items can be transported back and forth. It is easiest if the child can wear any clothing they’d like at either home. There should be age-appropriate toys at each house, but it helps if you don’t make a fuss over whether an item that you brought goes along with your child to your ex’s house. There will be some bigger items that should stay in their original homes; maybe you don’t want your child taking their gaming console from house to house, for example. It is also helpful if the parent who has the child at any given time drops them off at the other parent’s house rather than having the other parent pick up the child. This ensures that whatever activity was being enjoyed before the switching-off time has been completed and that they can say goodbye to their parent in the car on the way to their other parent’s home.
Divorce and child-rearing can go together when both parents are committed to working together for the best interest of the child. Work with your ex and, if needed, contact a legal resource group like National Family Solutions for help.