I attended a great panel talk the other week on parenting through divorce. The talk was organized by Elise Pettus, founder of UNtied, and given by three experienced therapists – Steve Demby, Barbara Rothberg, and Alice Kaltman. Together, the presenters shared a wealth of helpful information about parenting, and I wanted to share some of the highlights. The first post in the series focused on the effects that divorce may have on parents and children, the second post highlighted behaviors that children may exhibit during divorce, and the this post will offer tips for co-parenting.
Tips for Successful Co-Parenting
No One “Right” Way: There’s no “right” way to co-parenting during or after divorce. Whatever works for your particular family is the right way. If that means continuing to have certain holidays together, terrific. If it means you and your ex communicate only by email or text and never see each other, terrific. You can rely on your intuitive sense of what works best for you and your kids – not on what your friend or sister or father tells you is right for your family.
Clear Expectations: As part of your divorce process, you’ll work out a schedule for when each parent will be with the kids and how you’ll make decisions for them. As much as possible, stick to what you’ve agreed to. It makes things more manageable for you, and a lot more manageable for your kids. A clear, predictable schedule, which spells out where they’ll be when, helps your kids transition from having one home to having two homes.
Communication: Once you and your ex agree to a schedule and parameters for co-parenting your kids, it helps to be very clear about how you and your ex will communicate regarding the inevitable things that come up (a schedule change, an upcoming math project, a weekend soccer game). Will you text, email or call? Find a medium that works for both of you.
Flexibility: For the most part, you want to stick to the schedule you’ve agreed to. But, if either you or your ex has a particular event when you’d like to have – or not to have – the kids with you, try to be accommodating and supportive of that. Hopefully, you get the same courtesy in return. Even if you don’t, you can rest assured that having a happy co-parent is in your kids’ bestinterests.
Acceptance: Your ex doesn’t cook healthy food for the kids. The kids go to bed later at his/her home than at yours. And they sit in front of the TV all day. The list may go on. Even if you and your ex were still married, there would likely be numerous aspects of parenting that you’d disagree about. In divorce, those differences will feel pronounced and more painful, but try to pick your battles. Too much Chinese take-out for dinner? Let it slide. If there’s a true health and safety issue, raise it.
Involving Professionals: If your ex is reactive to your diplomatic and measured feedback on an important parenting issue, suggest that you both get guidance from a neutral therapist or parenting coach/coordinator on what would be best for the kids. That neutral professional is better situated to assess what kind of parenting behavior is acceptable for your kids. Where behavior it unacceptable, the message will land better, and feel less like a personal attack, coming from a neutral third party.