Co-parenting is a fairly new word. Divorce isn’t new, but many states have begun giving joint custody to parents. Placement determines where the child or children will live, but joint custody gives each of the parents equal rights in decision-making.
If you or anyone you know has been through a divorce, you know how difficult it is to make any decision together. As someone who is a co-parent and who's spent years working with couples as they transition to co-parenting, I’ve seen and felt how difficult this can be. While the adults go through a difficult time, the children in divorce are the ones who suffer most.
The best thing parents can do to ensure their child gets through the divorce as emotionally healthy as possible is to build a working co-parent relationship. If this co-parent relationship is filled with anger, bitterness and resentment, the children will suffer longer. In an effort to keep all involved as emotionally healthy as possible, here are the top nine co-parenting tips to help you or your friends through joint custody:
1. Put your child first.
When parents are arguing, the people most affected by it are the children — even when the children aren’t around. They can sense the tension and become worried about bringing up Mom or Dad in front of the other parent. Use your stress-management techniques rather than engaging in an argument, especially in front of your children.
2. Respond, don’t react.
Responses are thought-based, whereas reactions are emotion-based. If you have to walk away from a situation before you’re able to respond, that’s the smart thing to do. No one knows better how to push your buttons than your ex, and in high-conflict situations, that’s what will happen. When your co-parent says something that he knows will make you upset, stop, take a breath and ask to talk at a different time.
3. Listen consciously.
Many people think divorce will get rid of the other person for good, but when you have a child together, you parent together. You two are going to be in each other’s lives for a long time. There are parties, school events, graduations, weddings, etc. Listening to your co-parent when they ask for a schedule change, rather than shutting them down immediately, will go a long way in building a mutually respectful co-parent relationship.
4. Know that you don’t have to feel respectful to act respectful.
Compartmentalize your feelings for the sake of your children. Look at situations for what they are instead of the emotion that may come with it. When your co-parent keeps your children up 30 minutes past bedtime because they had so much fun catching lightning bugs outside, remember that she didn’t do it to undermine you. Your co-parent was creating memories that your children will cherish, and their happiness is the goal.
5. Get it out, but do it out of the way of your children.
You will have negative feelings, so you can’t and shouldn’t hold them in. Write in a journal or talk to a friend or relative when your children aren’t there. You need to get these feelings out, so find a way to do it so your children don’t see or hear it.
6. This isn’t a competition.
There isn’t an award given to the best parent here. There are only happy, healthy children who grow up knowing both of their parents love them. The next time you notice yourself starting to argue in an effort to “win,” remember there's no winning or losing. It doesn’t matter who came up with the best idea or who had the most good ideas; all that matters is that your child grows up to be happy and healthy.
7. Work on whatever anger and resentment you harbor.
When you let go of your bitterness, anger and resentment, you’re taking the first step in building a co-parenting relationship. You can’t write a new chapter in your book of life if you haven’t closed the last. When you start to feel tension rise in your body, ask yourself, “Am I angry because of the past or am I angry because of this situation?” If you’re angry because of the situation, work to fix it! If you’re angry because of the past, let it go!
8. Apply a business model to your co-parenting relationship.
There are fewer emotions in business relationships, which will cut down on feelings of bitterness and resentment. We know that bitterness and resentment present itself in arguments and harsh feelings and words. Agree on a method of communication, the frequency of this communication and what the communication will be about. Doing this will ensure no one feels as if the other crossed boundaries and it sets a reasonable standard for your relationship as co-parents.
9. Even if you don't feel positive all the time, try anyway.
You're going to be hurt and upset, that’s a given, but how you project those feelings can make or break how well your child transitions in the divorce. Put on a smile for the few minutes you see your co-parent and get your feelings out later. Use the communication methods you agreed on and leave it at that. Remember that your co-parent is not going to do things the same as you, but that’s not a bad thing. You will each offer something different to your child to help them grow into a well-rounded adult.
Divorce can take years to get over. Applying some of these tips can help you get through the emotions of your divorce much more quickly.