One universal truth about parenting is this: It is challenging. It is also wonderful, and life-changing, and full of moments of pure joy – but it isn’t easy. This is true even in the most ideal of circumstances – when parents are on the same page, and living under the same roof, and in a happy, high-functioning relationship. When you add a huge life event like divorce into the mix, it can become even more challenging. The good news though, is that just because something is challenging, doesn’t mean that it isn’t manageable.
The good news is, that parents who are committed to co-parenting successfully after a divorce can actually do so quite well, if they both have the desire and put forth the effort necessary to so do. In the long run, what’s best for the children, whether their parents are divorced or not, is to have two parents who are on the same page when it comes to the important matters in their children’s lives, and when it comes to doing all that’s necessary to ensure that their children are happy, and healthy, and thriving. While this will understandably look different for every family, it is our hope that these helpful co-parenting tips will help you as you move toward making both of your houses happy, healthy homes for your children:
- Emphasize quality over quantity: Often, in the midst of divorce and the initial determination of a parenting plan, couples can become very focused on trying to ensure that the parenting time each parent receives with the child is as “fair” and as “equal” as possible. While it is certainly important to make sure that your children get to spend ample time with each parent, it can often be a mistake to emphasize quantity – that is, a completely even, 50-50 split, over the actual quality of the time you spend together. After all, it’s not so much the time itself, but what you do with the time that matters most. At all times, and following a divorce particularly, it is important to make every effort to truly be present in the moments that you are with your children. Spend time doing activities that you all enjoy. Laugh. Listen. Hug them. Play with them. Be there for them. Putting your focus on these things is far more important than fixating over the exact amount of time that each parent receives. What is truly the best option is to figure out a schedule that works for your family’s particular circumstances, and to have confidence that you will be able to maintain a close bond with your children regardless of whether the time is split exactly in an even manner.
- Be willing and available to listen: Divorce is emotionally difficult for everyone, children and parents alike. Part of successful co-parenting is acknowledging the difficult emotions that your children may be going through, and making yourself available to listen to their concerns and talk through those emotions with them. During and after a divorce, children will experience a wide range of emotions. Sometimes, they might feel angry, or sad, or frustrated. At other times, they might feel happy – after all, new things can be exciting to some children – a new home, two sets of birthday parties, two sets of holidays – some children feel excited about these things, and then often feel guilt for feeling excited, even though those feelings are completely normal. Children often don’t realize this though. They often have difficulty processing all of these emotions, and knowing that they have two parents, even if in different homes, who are willing, open, and available to listen can make all the difference. It is important to let your children know that whatever emotions they might be feeling are okay, and normal, and manageable. Remind them as often as you need to, that the divorce was not their fault, and that both of their parents, together or not, will always love them and be there to support them.
- Be flexible: While creating a detailed parenting plan is important, it is also important to allow for some flexibility in those plans. If your ex-spouse’s family is having an important event like a reunion, or a party, or a holiday celebration that doesn’t conflict with an event you have, even if it happens to be during “your” parenting time – consider allowing your child to go. If your children have sporting events or other extracurricular activities that they enjoy, consider working with your other parent to make both of your schedules work to allow your children to attend those activities. Maintaining a good, close relationship with family and extended family – on both sides – is important for your child’s overall well-being, as is continuing to be able to be involved in activities they enjoy. Making the effort toward being flexible is a two-way street of course, and demonstrating that flexibility will likely encourage your co-parent to be more open to being flexible as well.
- Continue to communicate and coordinate with your co–parent: Certainly, it is important, in any co-parenting arrangement to have a schedule and a plan in place. It’s important to discuss the big issues at the outset of your divorce, and to decide, together how to approach and handle those matters. As important as this is, however, one truth about life – especially when you have growing children, is that life changes. As children grow their schedules will change, their needs will change, the activities that they’re involved in will change. As a result, keeping the lines of communication open with your co-parent is necessary, as is maintaining flexibility. Some co-parents find it helpful to schedule regular meetings to check in on how the co-parenting plan is working for the children, what new issues might need to be addressed, and how the parents can continue to work together toward their children’s best interests.
- Resist the urge to criticize: Understandably, divorce is a very emotional time. You may feel very any number of emotions toward your ex-spouse, and not all of them (or even most of them) will be pleasant. While this is normal and understandable, it is very important to do all that you can not to drag your children into the midst of emotional situations between the two of you as adults. The truth of the matter is that children are not mature enough to truly understand or navigate complex adult emotions, and it is unreasonable and unfair to expect them to. If you have an issue with your ex-spouse, it is best to address those issues privately. Around your children, it is best to convey an attitude of respect toward your co-parent, and to avoid the urge to criticize, even at times when you may feel upset. After all, your children love and care about both of you, and it only causes them additional anxiety and pain to continually witness conflict between you. Do all that you can to avoid this, and to co-parent with an attitude in mutual respect and cooperation.
No matter what, co-parenting will not be without its share of difficulty. It simply comes with the territory. It can be made easier, however, when approached with an attitude of flexibility, cooperation, and willingness to communicate openly, and to work together toward realizing your children’s best interests. Doing so is well worth the effort, for everyone involved.