When a divorce is finally over, most people would love to just cut ties with their ex completely and move on with their life. Unfortunately, that is often not possible — especially if you have children. When minor children are involved, you have a lifelong connection to your former spouse, regardless of how you may feel about them.
This leaves a situation with two possible paths for parents after divorce: You can continue to actively hold animosity towards each other creating a stressful situation for yourself, your ex and more importantly, your children; or you can both learn to put your past differences aside for the sake of your kids and learn effective co-parenting. (It should be obvious which is the better option.)
While saying “You should just put aside your differences and get along for the kids” is obviously much easier than actually doing it, the benefits of successful co-parenting are numerous and should help make it a little easier. After all, every parent wants to put their children in the best position possible.
Studies have found that successfully co-parenting children after a divorce helps to foster feelings of stability, a better relationship with BOTH parents, lowered feelings of abandonment, a faster adjustment to the new family arrangement, a lower chance of behavioral issues, a decreased risk for substance abuse and many more. Additionally, children benefit from seeing their parents work together, which gives them a positive role models for cooperative problem solving.
It’s easy to look at the list of perks and wonder why everyone can’t seem to let go of the past to help with the future. Well, if you ask someone who has been through a contentious divorce to speak about their ex, most can probably rattle off an endless list reasons (big and small) to dislike — or even hate — that person.
Divorcees can harbor deep resentments stemming from long years of rocky marriage, to fresh scars incurred during the divorce proceedings, and dwelling on these feelings is often enough to blind even the most sensible parent from doing what is best for their kids. It may take a lot of effort and concentrated self-reflection, but you must ask yourself: Which feeling is stronger, the hatred for your ex or the love for your children?
Now that you’ve determined the welfare of your children is the most important thing in your life, you can start the process of co-parenting with a fresh perspective. It takes both parents fully committed to successfully co-parenting, but making it work is entirely possible. Here are a few ideas and tips once you and your former spouse decide that developing a new, working relationship as parents is the best option for your kids:
Keep things professional
You don’t have to like someone to get along. Everyone has worked with people they don’t like, but you can generally get through even daily interactions without trips to HR. If it is still difficult for you to be around your ex, keep your communications business-like. Most of your interactions will likely be short, particularly in the beginning. Just maintain your control during pickups and drop-offs, and you are well on your way to co-parenting like a pro.
Open communication is essential
You and your ex need to be on the same page about everything related to your children if you want to make co-parenting work. Face-to-face, or even verbal conversations can be difficult shortly after the divorce when everything is still fresh. This is normal. Luckily, in the modern era, we have text and email to help us avoid these unpleasant situations.
Not only can you communicate without having to see the person, texts and emails afford the opportunity to review your message before sending it. If you feel yourself becoming heated, take a break and come back later. It will serve nothing but fueling the flames unnecessarily to get in a snippy texting war with your ex.
Keep each other up to speed on important issues
When courts award joint custody, both the primary and non-custodial parent are entitled to information regarding their child when it comes to things like medical issues, education, legal troubles, etc. Parents should not try to keep these sorts of things from each other. Sending a quick email updating the non-custodial parent on your child’s grades when a report card comes in doesn’t take much time, and helps maintain trust.
Co-parenting requires flexibility
While your parenting plan / visitation schedule becomes a court order after you, your ex and judge sign off on it, there will inevitably be times where schedules conflict. Maybe the non-custodial parent has a work meeting that takes them out of town during their scheduled weekend, or strep throat is running rampant through the primary parent’s house on a weekday visitation. Co-parenting means you must work with each other to figure out a plan that is best for everyone.
Obviously, it would not be good for the children if the non-custodial parent were to demand his time when the kids were sick. So, figure out an extra day in the next few weeks to take two evenings with the kids. And if the non-custodial parent has something come up during their weekend, the primary parent shouldn’t demand they find a babysitter. Be understanding and take care of the kids without creating a big fuss. Letting the little things go instead of blowing them up into bigger issues helps avoid unnecessary animosity from developing.
Utilize a shared calendar
Outlook and Google Calendar are extremely useful for keeping track of the complex scheduling involved with co-parenting. This calendar should keep all information, such as visitation, school breaks vacations, extra-curricular activities, doctor appointments, etc., centrally located so that neither parent has to search through emails, texts and notes to remember what is happening when. This helps to avoid a lot of miscommunication.
Create similar ground rules
You will want the transition from one household to the other to be as seamless as possible. You and your ex may have different parenting styles, but the basic rules of behavior should be fairly similar: Bed time should be around the same time, limitations on electronics should be comparable, stipulations regarding homework and expected discipline should be alike, etc.
When co-parenting, you should avoid situations where you become the “Disneyland dad” that frequently arises for non-custodial fathers. It may be tempting to shower your kids in gifts and fun since you have such limited time with them, but it is better for your children developmentally to have similar expectations from both households.
Co-parenting means keeping confrontation away from your kids
You and your ex will inevitably have your disagreements from time to time. However, remember that you are working with your spouse for the sake of your children. Keep full-blown arguments to a minimum, but make extra care to keep your cool around your kids — fighting around them undermines all of the work you have put into effective co-parenting.
Interacting with your ex obviously won’t be fun. Maintaining courtesy will be challenging at times. But just remember, you aren’t making this effort for you; you are doing it to give your children the best lifestyle possible. Kids can have a very difficult time coping with divorce, and when both parents provide a united, loving front, it helps them to more readily accept the changes. A little civility and cooperation is a relatively small price to pay for mitigating the harmful effects your divorce has on your children.