It is inevitable as part of divorce with children that the once unified family household will now be separated in two. Each party to a divorce has their own feelings, opinions, and standards of living that will directly impact the children and, at times, impact the other parent. To successfully co-parent you are going to have to find ways to navigate and negotiate these differences without alienating your children.
There is one quintessential point that both parents should always keep in mind when navigating differences of opinion: in virtually every disagreement, there is more harm by parents remaining in conflict than what you are likely fighting about. The harm to children caused by a conflicted environment is severe; it includes a higher risk of depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, poor school performance, behavioral problems and many other serious negative outcomes
These are common co-parenting mistakes that parents often make:
- Failing to address your child(ren)’s concerns about their future after parents separate. Try to see a shifting world through the eyes of your children, and make decisions that are focused around their needs.
- Putting down the other parent in front the child(ren) or within ear shot of the child(ren). The sting of hearing the two people they love the most in the world saying vicious things about the other doesn’t quickly go away. Also remember that it is more than words that the children pick up on; it is tone and body language that helps them interpret how you feel about your co-parent.
- Involving the child(ren) in disputes between parents whether directly or indirectly. This likely will lead to a sense that they are responsible for the dispute; or at the very least that they are an ongoing “stress” contributing to the hostilities.
- Questioning child(ren) in an effort to gather information about the other parent. This type of interrogation fills a child with angst, and ultimately will lead them to feel guilty about getting a parent in trouble.
- Failing to properly negotiate and mediate issues regarding the child(ren)’s care, safety, education, religion, holidays, vacations, etc. As stated before, remaining in conflict is so much more damaging than making reasonable decisions about these issues.
- Rejecting your child(ren)’s affection for the other parent or failing to support the other parent’s role in the child(ren)’s lives. The biggest gift you can give your child is to encourage a positive and healthy relationship with your co-parenting partner. Giving them permission to have a wonderful time with the other parent promotes emotional health for your child(ren).
- Failing to support and maintain your child(ren)’s relationships with friends, family, school, community and activities. Seeing the effects of divorce on your child(ren) through their eyes, understanding the enormous impact that you and your co-parenting partner are having on their lives, should help you understand the need to support and encourage your child(ren)’s long-term healthy relationships.
Moving forward you’re going to need to find ways to navigate these new waters in a positive, respectful manner while understanding that you cannot control the other parent. Here are some suggestions for achieving this:
- Have a conversation with your (child)ren, together with the other parent when appropriate, that creates a united and positive atmosphere about the upcoming changes and addresses your child(ren)’s questions.
- Have a defined plan for holidays, activities, appointments and other scheduling issues.
- Be flexible and open to occasional schedule changes when necessary and accommodate your co-parent’s request. Create a structure that gives your child(ren) have high quality time with each of you; not necessarily exactly equal time.
- Have private weekly phone conversations with your co-parent to discuss the needs, schedules, and well-being of your child(ren), and be cordial and open to the other parent’s ideas and concerns.
- Use a co-parenting website such as Our Family Wizard, Google calendar, and email or text to communicate scheduling or share information when appropriate.
- Accept that at some point your co-parenting partner will move on with a new partner and that person may eventually become involved in your child(ren)’s lives. Giving your child(ren) permission to establish healthy relationships with that person will alleviate a sense of stress or guilt your child would otherwise feel.
- Actively involve your co-parent in important events in your child(ren)’s lives whenever possible. Send pictures and communicate special moments so that you can share pride in your child(ren).
- Try to maintain a united front when it comes to child(ren)’s behavioral issues and consequences
- Develop the mindset that being the best parent possible for you child(ren) includes encouraging a healthy positive relationship with your co-parenting partner.
Discussing how to co-parent successfully is often a big part of the Collaborative Divorce process, and should be part of any divorce process. If you are considering divorce and have children, consider Collaborative Divorce as an alternative to traditional divorce, as a way to develop and maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship.
About the blogger:
Jeffrey S. Levy, LCSW, GAL, received his MSW from University of New England and BS from the University of Maine. Jeff has been operating his private therapy practice since 2001, and he has been serving the Maine courts as a Guardian ad Litem since 2006. Jeff is an adoption social worker, serving as the Director of the Maine branch for China Adoption With Love. He is also an instructor for the Kid’s First Program, providing separating parents guidance in working collaboratively for their children’s best interest. Additionally, he has developed a workshop instructing therapists on how to work with Highly Conflicted Separated Families and has taught it throughout Maine. Jeff received training as a Collaborative Divorce Coach in 2014 and is a founding member and Board Member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance.