One of the most heart-wrenching experiences through which a person can go is the process of divorce. It can be even more horrifying when children are involved. Parents often wonder if the divorce will “mess-up” their child. They fear the long-term effects and are concerned their child will suffer greatly because of the divorce. The truth is that the amount of suffering and negative effects the divorce has on a child is directly related to the way the parents handle the situation.
Below is a summarization of a helpful co-parenting guideline derived from the book “Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way” by M. Gary Neuman, LMHC. I’ve used this outline many times while helping people learn how to handle the new family dynamic of co-parenting:
- Redefine your relationship: If you are unable to view your ex as a friend, think of him/her as a business partner and your child as your business. Business partners are not always friends, but they are two people trying to reach a common goal.
- Choose your battles wisely: Recognizing the control you do have in a situation and accepting what it is you cannot control.
- Respect your ex’s relationship with your child: Respecting and staying out of the relationship your ex has with your child. With the exception of an abusive situation, do not interfere their relationship.
- Voice concerns in a nonthreatening manner: If your child is struggling and you feel a conversation is needed between you and your ex; use language that is not controlling but make suggestions. Using phrases like:
“Perhaps just consider…” (as opposed to “You should…”)
“Obviously, it’s up to you…”(as opposed to “I think you ought to…”)
“In case this helps….”(as opposed to “The way I do things…”)
- Go out of your way to ensure that your ex is included in your child’s life: Be sure to notify your ex of school events, extracurricular activities, and other important life events.
- Try not to fight, especially in front of your child: For the sake of your child, be smart enough to walk away or hang up the phone if you feel the conversation is turning into an argument.
- Be flexible: Life can be unpredictable. Be flexible with your schedule. Work with your ex to accommodate changes. Remember, you may be on the receiving end of that accommodation one day.
- When making a decision about your child, ask yourself “What is in the best interest of my child?”: Asking yourself this question eliminates the back and forth between you and your ex. It’s not about the two of you, it’s about your child.
These helpful hints have aided countless parents through the difficult process of co-parenting. There is one focus I like to add to this list:
- Mirror your homes as best as possible: Kids need structure, stability, and consistency to thrive. Try to create a schedule and routine that can be as consistent as possible in each home. Discuss homework hours, chores, curfews, house rules and discipline. Also, discuss if a punishment earned at one parent’s home will also be honored at the other parent’s home. No two homes will be identical, but creating as much similarity as possible will be best for your child.
This outline helps give some guidance on how best to navigate the waters of co-parenting. Remember that no parent is perfect and that even in the best of situations we all make mistakes. Divorce doesn’t have to mean your child will be “messed-up”, it means there is a need to restructure your lives and make the proper adjustments needed to best help your child thrive through this change. You may no longer be married, but you are still the parents and creating a new normal defining your “family.”