The transition out of partnership is a huge challenge, but a little strategy and self-awareness go a long way.
In the wake of a divorce, there is often so much static that parenting becomes a power struggle. Even if it is a mutual decision, it’s a painful process of becoming two households and restarting.
For children, this process is confusing and emotional. If there is drama, they don’t understand it and this can be very disruptive. For you as the parent, once custody issues and lawyers are added in, the burden becomes not just emotional but also financial. In this situation, it’s not uncommon for adults to act out and it’s the kids that really pay the price.
However, there are some actions you can take to avoid this kind of stress, and taking control of what you can control will limit the damage and hopefully, settle into a more regulated, neutral situation. Let’s take a look at what the experts say on co-parenting and how to minimize the discomfort.
- Cool down. Taking a step back from the situation allows everyone a short period of respite. Meet in a neutral place to do the handing off, and keep communication limited to details via email. Resist the urge to engage in-person for a couple weeks or a month.
- Separate out your issues from those that directly affect the child. This can be tricky, and let’s be honest, part of the insult of a failed marriage is that we feel being in a partnership is the best thing for our kids. But if we are vigilant about asking the question: “Is this about me, or is it about the kids?” we cultivate a distinction in our minds, and hopefully in our behavior over time.
- If things remain tense, seek out mediation. You don’t have to wait until things are so bad that legal counsel is required (especially at $250 per hour!). You can actually get an intermediary with legal training who will guide you both toward a clearer schematic.
- Attend a co-parenting class. This is another very valuable resource that many people don’t know about, but going to a class can really steady the boat. When you aren’t trying to resolve the larger marital issues but simply getting assistance in how to structure the new arrangement, you take a big load off the whole dynamic.
- Share a calendar. Use Google Docs or an organizational app to set up a way that you can communicate with your co-parent. This minimizes potential for conflict, and ensures that the week goes smoothly.
- Clear boundaries. Rules should be consistent at both households so that the routine is not lopsided. Agree on as many daily self-care details as possible, like bedtime, diet, and doctor visits. Try to come to an agreement on chores and allowance so kids understand.
- Draw up a written agreement. Again, for the sake of clarity, write it all down, copy it, and sign it so each of you can regularly refer to it. You can amend it at any point as long as the two parties agree, but the act of putting it down on paper makes the lines cleaner.
- Allocate tasks evenly. If there are parental demands from school like paperwork or driving to extra curricular activities, try to maintain a balance to avoid resentment.
- Commit to positive talk. Resist the temptation to get your kids on your side of the divide. It really doesn’t help and in the long run, shows them that it’s okay to talk smack about their other parent. Save venting for your grown-up friends who have the context and the maturity to actually understand your need to get out negative feelings. Always avoid sabotaging your child’s relationship with the other parent.
- Let life be ordinary. If one parent only sees the children on the weekends, the inclination is to fill that time with entertaining fun. This sends the signal that one parent is the ant and one parent is the grasshopper. Studies show kids need to see both parents doing daily, household stuff too1.
- Update often. When your children encounter a stumbling block, make sure your co-parent knows about it. Keep that door open so that both households can be supportive.
- Deep breaths. It gets easier. No one in their right mind will tell you this is fun, but many families make the transition when they get some practice. Parenting in any conditions is a long road, and when the dust settles, hopefully both parties can agree on the terms and remain focused on the most important thing: the kids.
Sometimes, there is a certain tension that gets released when the effort becomes about parenting rather than mending the relationship. There will be slips and fumbles, but try to keep your highest mind in the game and stay flexible. In the long run, clear communication, good boundaries, and a steady schedule will show your kids that even when a partnership doesn’t work out, you are both committed to loving and raising them. As adults, they will respect this and it will serve them in their own relationships too.