Co-Parent? You’ve Got to Be Kidding???

You’ve finally gotten through the divorce. You are single and free from whatever characteristics of your Ex that made continuation of the marriage impossible. You hope you NEVER have to deal with him/her again. To put it bluntly, you HATE your Ex. But then there’s the children…
I tell every divorce client with children – you can end the marriage by divorce, but you cannot end the family. Divorce only changes the terms of the relationship between mom and dad. So how do you just “change the terms of the relationship” when you hope you NEVER have to deal with him/her again and you HATE you Ex? The bonds of the family by and through your children remain intact after divorce.
The way you manage the new relationship with your Ex and the new structure of the family will directly affect the children. If you co-parent well, the children will thrive and learn to adapt to two household living. If you co-parent poorly, the children feel torn, are often clinically depressed, may behave badly in both households, may show diminished achievement in school and extracurricular activities and the list goes on and on.
So how do we learn to Co-Parent? It’s like when the children were born, they did not come with instructions. Every child is different and parents muddle through each day of parenting trying to make the right choices. The same holds true for learning to co-parent. Some parents seem to transition into co-parenting easier than others. These parents seem to have a knack for seeing the situation as a dichotomy – you end the relationship as husband and wife, along with all the bonds this relationship includes because you dislike this person as a partner. However, you do not end the relationship for purposes of communicating and making joint decisions that are in the best interest of your children. That’s a tall order!
We can all gain a few tips from Deborah Serani Psy.D., Psychology Today, for a few suggestions on improving your co-parenting skills:

• Commit to making co-parenting an open dialogue with your Ex.

Arrange to do this through email, texting, voicemail, letters or face to face conversation. There are even websites where you can upload schedules, share information and communicate so you and your Ex don’t have to directly touch base.

• Rules should be consistent and agreed upon at both households.

As much as they fight it, children need routine and structure. Issues like meal time, bed time, and completing chores need to be consistent. The same goes for school work and projects. Running a tight ship creates a sense of security and predictability for children. So no matter where your child is, he or she knows that certain rules will be enforced. “You know the deal, before we can go to the movies, you gotta get that bed made.”

• Commit to positive talk around the house.

Make it a rule to frown upon your children talking disrespectfully about your Ex even though it may be music to your ears.

• Agree on boundaries and behavioral guidelines

for raising your children so that there’s consistency in their lives, regardless of which parent they’re with at any given time. Research shows that children in homes with a unified parenting approach have greater well-being.

• Create an Extended Family Plan.

Negotiate and agree on the role extended family members will play and the access they’ll be granted while your child is in each other’s charge.

• Recognize that co-parenting will challenge you

– and the reason for making accommodations in your parenting style is NOT BECAUSE YOUR EX WANTS THIS OR THAT, but for the needs of your children.

• Be Aware of Slippery Slopes.

Be aware that children will frequently test boundaries and rules, especially if there’s a chance to get something they may not ordinarily be able to obtain. This is why a united front in co-parenting is recommended.

• Be boring.

Research shows that children need time to do ordinary things with their less-seen parent, not just fun things.

• Update often.

Although it may be emotionally painful, make sure that you and your Ex keep each other informed about all changes in your life, or circumstances that are challenging or difficult. It is important that your child is never, ever, ever the primary source of information.

• Go for the high notes.

Each of you has valuable strengths as a parent. Remember to recognize the different traits you and your Ex have – and reinforce this awareness with your children. Speaking positively about your Ex teaches children that despite your differences, you can still appreciate positive things about your Ex. “Mommy’s really good at making you feel better when you’re sick. I know, I’m not as good as she is.” It also directs children to see the positive qualities in his or her parent too. “Daddy’s much better at organizing things than I am.”
The video of RaeLynn’s “Love Triangle” may send this message best – the last verse is quoted below:

And some mommas and daddys ran out of love in ‘94
And some mommas and daddys don’t even talk no more
And some mommas and daddys let their heartstrings tear and tangle
And some of us get stuck… and some of us grew up… in a love triangle.