It’s a tall order to ask parents who are divorced to get along as co-parents, but it’s possible. And sometimes, it’s even easier than when the couple was married.
The stress of a divorce is tremendous. It is one of the biggest life stresses and of course effects co-parenting. But frequently, after the divorce is completed, a new normal is established and co-parenting can be easier than before. The parents can work on developing a new “business” relationship and hopefully let go of some of the anger from their spousal relationship. It is helpful if a few simple rules are followed.
The first, and one of the most important, is for parents to have as little overt conflict in front of the kids as possible. The research on divorce tells us that kids are generally resilient and that they can do well, but they suffer when their parents fight in front of them. That also means that one parent cannot badmouth the other or say negative things about their ex to their kids. Whatever the issues are between the parents, it is not the kids’ business. Children love both of their parents. They are not involved, or shouldn’t be involved, in their parents’ problems. If they hear negative things about a parent, it puts them in conflict and they will be uncomfortable. Ultimately, what happens is that they end up choosing one parent over the other and siding with one parent against the other. This is not healthy for children. Children should not be fighting the parental battles. And this takes a parent away from the kids. It is the kids who end up suffering.
Another important concept of co-parenting is for parents to have “more or less” the same rules. What that means, is that the kids have more or less the same rules in each home. They have a similar bedtime, similar means of discipline, similar rules around food and media. If there is this kind of consistency, kids can feel more comfortable and secure. They will not doubt one parent over the other or take sides that one is right and other is wrong. They will understand that both parents care about them and have agreed on what is best for them. This will also be helpful as the children will not be able to pit one parent against the other.
Understanding and agreeing on forms of communication is also essential. Some parents only like to text, and others use the phone or email. It doesn’t matter what form of communication parents use, as long as they agree. It is also essential that the texts or emails (or calls) be short and to the point. Extra details, particularly venting old anger, is not helpful and only enrages the ex, preventing any positive communication. Stick to the topic. I always suggest that after a text or email is written, it is edited before the send button is pressed. That can avoid a crisis! And most important, is not to use the kids to communicate with one another. Children are not messengers. They should not be responsible to inform the other parent of a meeting or activity or even deliver a note. If they forget, which is likely, they get blamed and then they are in the middle, where they should not be.
And lastly, whatever agreements you make with your ex, stick to them. If you are to bring kids to the other parent ar 5pm on Sunday, don’t come at 6. If you say you’ll pick the kids up at a certain time, be there. This builds trust for both the kids and other parent, so the relationship can grow in a positive way. And remember, even if you divorce as spouses, you are forever parents, and hopefully can be proud of the job you do raising your kids together.