Successful Co-Parenting after Divorce
Once your divorce is final, you would hope the tension you experienced in your marriage would be over. Your divorce attorney will have helped you through the process of getting as favorable of a settlement as possible. You’re ready to start a fresh, new life free from the problems that ended the marriage.
However, if you share minor children, the difficulties that gave rise to the divorce will likely show up in the co-parenting relationship – unless new tactics are undertaken to figure out how to successfully “co-parent”. As experienced divorce attorneys, we have often seen two people who made terrible spouses actually become effective co-parents after divorce. In this article we share some of the best strategies for co-parenting after divorce – to ensure your children’s well being and happiness.
Why Co-Parenting After Divorce is Important for Your Children
Co-Parenting basically means that both parents play active roles in the lives of their children. When co-parenting is done well, children have a greater sense of stability and security – which aids them in their emotional development now and for the rest of their lives. Children whose parents are able to successfully co-parent do not experience the trauma of divorce as deeply as those whose parents engage in ongoing conflict.
But co-parenting doesn’t always go smoothly. Sharing a parenting role with an ex brings up a lot of feelings, such as pain, anger, bitterness and frustration. Likely you and your ex-spouse have different ideas about how to raise the kids. Unresolved issues get added to the mix, increasing the potential for conflict. When your ex makes comments about the kids’ behavior or your parenting, you may feel put down, shamed and guilty. You may react out of those feelings, making a tense situation even worse.
The Mindset of Successful Co-Parenting after Divorce
Research indicates that many children of divorce suffer from emotional and behavioral problems, decreased academic performance, and low self-esteem. The surprising thing about the research is that the divorce itself does not seem to be the primary cause. Rather, it is the quality (or lack of quality) of co-parenting that proves to be the determining factor.
The goal of successful co-parenting is to place the needs and well-being of the children first. That takes a bit of work, and a lot of self-control, on the part of the parents. Even benign comments made by an ex can trigger hot buttons, and a successful co-parent will learn to eventually push those old reactions onto the back burner in order to meet the needs of the children. Of course, the feelings need to be dealt with, but there are better places to do that than in front of the kids.
Benefits of Successful Co-Parenting after a Divorce
Some benefits to your children when the co-parenting relationship is healthy include:
- A greater feeling of safety and security
- Stronger emotional and behavioral health
- Enhanced academic performance
- Greater self-esteem
- Problem-solving ability is less restricted
- A greater capacity for positive intimate relationships into adulthood
- Less stress and frustration for the co-parents
Key Components of Co-parenting after Divorce:
There are concrete things that you (and hopefully your ex-spouse) can do to increase the likelihood of a successful co-parenting relationship.
Learn to Cooperate – Cooperation begins with adopting a positive co-parenting mindset. Agree with your spouse that although the two of you may still not see eye to eye, it’s worth trying to work together as co-parents for the sake of the children. Try to really listen to one another, be willing to communicate fairly and compromise whenever possible.
Find Common Ground in Terms of Care and Education – Likely you and your ex have different ideas about what is best for your children in terms of care and education. Begin in the spirit of compromise, asking your ex to think about what he or she believes would be best, and try to find some common ground. You should both do your homework, so you have objective criteria about what is best – rather than making decisions based on emotions or “knee jerk” reactions.
Consistency is Important – Try to work out a set of routines that are consistent so your children know what to expect and what is expected of them. This will increase their sense of security.
Become Skilled in Conflict Management – You will both need to put anger and resentment that grew during your marriage on the backburner so that you can work toward what’s best for your children. Learn new ways of communicating, and new ways to react to your ex. Keep your children out of any conflict you may still have with your ex. And don’t use your children as messengers in order to avoid difficult conversations.
Avoid “Triangulation” – Triangulation happens when one ex-spouse tries to get the children on his or her side against the other ex-spouse. This may take the form of criticizing your ex (or your ex’s new relationships) in front of the children, trying to one-up your spouse in terms of gifts or activities, or even withholding love when you feel like your children are preferring your ex.
Triangulation is extremely damaging to children, and will sabotage any efforts you make toward building a successful co-parenting relationship.
When Your Ex-Spouse Won’t Cooperate
In a perfect world, you and your ex-spouse would put aside your own feelings and reactions for the benefit of the children. However, a perfect world rarely exists in divorces. Communication that was strained in the marriage likely has deteriorated. And once the divorce is final, the motivation to get along with one another decreases. It may be tempting to wait for your ex-spouse to change or cooperate before you make any positive changes yourself. Or, you may be skeptical that your ex will ever be willing or capable of change.
Remember that – for the sake of your children – someone has to make the first move in terms of forging a positive co-parenting role. As difficult as it may seem, taking that first step is the very best thing you can do for your children. If your situation seems hopeless, our attorneys can in some cases recommend a course of action involving counseling, mediation or conflict resolution to get you and your ex pointed in the right direction.