In any divorce, there is a gift that you can give to your children: the commitment to work together as partners in affording them the love and support of two parents. This doesn’t pre-suppose a particular parenting arrangement, but rather a recognition that your children’s needs must come first and that working together may require extra effort on your part, for their sake. Strive always to look at things from the point of view of your children and set aside your spousal issues and power struggles. Recognize where problem areas might lie, and develop mechanisms to minimize conflict.
Rather than dwelling on the negative — whose fault this or that problem is — look for constructive solutions that focus on avoiding that problem in the future. Keep in mind always that you are doing this for your children and that an amicable, or at least businesslike, co-parenting relationship free of conflict and rancor will be your gift to them.
The goal, of course, is to focus on the best interests of your children. But it is not uncommon for parents going through a divorce to mush together their own needs and their children’s needs as if they were the same. It’s important to separate what you want from what will be best for your children and to focus on the latter. Also recognize that no matter what you decide initially regarding your children, those arrangements will likely change over time if you are sensitive to your children’s needs. Acknowledge this and talk about it. When I work with parents in mediation, I try to help them to build into their agreement mechanisms for making changes and adjustments over time — to see change as normal rather than an occasion for crisis. The goal is to work together over time as partners rather than adversaries in addressing the evolving needs of your children.
It is often useful to set up a mechanism for “parenting meetings” once a year or so; this provides an opportunity to discuss parenting issues together in some depth, outside the presence of the children: How are they doing? What about schools or summer plans? Are any changes called for? etc. Parents in my mediations also often devise some “parenting principles” to guide them in their future co-parenting relationships; these principles are commitments they make to one another about their co-parenting efforts. You will be parents together forever — you will eventually be grandparents together! — so learning to work well as parenting partners, though no longer spousal partners, is an essential component in any divorce.
Pamela Britton White has been practicing family and divorce mediation full-time in the Pasadena area (Los Angeles) since 1986.