The initial step to becoming a competent co-parent is to put your child’s needs ahead of your own. My research shows that children who had close to equal time with both parents grew up to have higher self-esteem and fewer trust issues. Even if your parenting time agreement specifies a 70/30 time split between homes, for example, consider balancing it out for the long-term psychological well-being of your children.
Your child can benefit from your guidance, as he/she doesn't have the wisdom, insight, and clarity to make decisions about spending time with both parents. Try to encourage your child to spend time with their other parent. Kids are sensitive to body language and unkind words, so make sure your tone and words are positive or neutral when discussing your ex-spouse with or in front of your child.
Moving from one house to another can be stressful for a child after their parents’ divorce. At times, a child may balk at the prospect of leaving one home and spending time with their other parent. This doesn't mean your child loves the other parent any less or wouldn't ultimately benefit from spending more time with him or her. Instead, the reticence to transition is a natural response of a child who is seeking security.
It’s crucial that you and your ex create a schedule that lessens the likelihood that your child will experience divided loyalties because they may feel like they have to choose sides. When both parents work together to determine schools, activities, social calendars and all the other aspects of the child's life, it fosters a cohesive daily experience for the child, no matter whose house they are at on a given day.
The key to helping your child feel secure is to help them anticipate the transitions between their two homes. Remind kids ahead of time that they will be spending time at their other home. You can even ask the other parent if they've made certain plans for the child, so you can say, "Mommy is planning on taking you to church Sunday" or "Daddy is helping at your school on Thursday." This helps your child anticipate the change and gives them something to look forward to at their other home. Attempt to show genuine enthusiasm about their visit with their other parent, just as you do when you take a child to kindergarten or when you deliver kids for a week at grandma's house.
Even though children don’t cause their parents’ divorce, kids often feel responsible for their parents’ happiness. In some cases, they might side with one parent against the other parent, which can cause alienation or even estrangement. In What About the Kids? Judith Wallerstein cautions us that a serious problem exists when a child and a parent of either sex joins forces in an alignment against the other parent's lifestyle, values or identity.
Modeling cooperation and polite behavior sets a positive tone for co-parenting. One of the many ways to avoid alienation is to recognize that your ex is your child's parent and deserves respect for that reason alone. If your child hears you express doubts about the other parent, it can have a detrimental impact on them emotionally because they will feel that they are in the middle.
Remind your kids a few days before the transition that they will be spending time with their other parent (if they are under the age of ten). This helps them anticipate the change and gives them an opportunity to adapt.
Attempt to set routines for daily life at each home. Try to discuss this with your ex to maintain consistency in both houses if possible for mealtimes, bedtimes, etc.
Plan ahead and help your child pack so they are bringing important possessions with them to the other home.
Don’t bad-mouth your ex. If your child hears you make negative comments about him or her, it can have a detrimental impact on them. Promote a positive bond between your ex and your child. Put your differences with your ex aside and show some interest in what they do together. For example, you could say, “I hope you had fun skating with your dad.”
Finally, be sure to focus on rebuilding your own life and not any negative feelings you have toward your ex-spouse. While you may be still grieving your divorce, keeping your differences with your ex away from your child will open up opportunities for him or her to heal from your divorce.
In the years to come, how do you want your child to remember you? It's possible to hinder your child’s development by holding onto past grievances toward your ex-partner. By providing loving encouragement or being neutral about the other parent, you can help make adjusting to post-divorce life easier for your children. When children are confident of the love of both of their parents, they have an easier time adjusting to their parents' divorce.