Once you sign the divorce decree, that’s the end of the road, right? You and your now-ex have gone back and forth, split up your shared assets, worked out of the logistics of your separation, and you never have to see this person again. Unless you have children. In that case, finalizing your divorce kicks off a whole new world: co-parenting.
When two parents divorce, separate, or are otherwise no longer a couple, yet continue to work together to raise a child, that’s co-parenting. Your divorce will likely include a parenting plan and an arrangement for primary custody and visitation, so that should be taken care of.
Adjusting to a co-parenting regimen can be tough, however. It comes with new logistical challenges, not to mention that you have to interact with your former spouse on a regular basis. And let’s be honest, if you two had a great, healthy relationship, you probably wouldn’t be divorced.
This new set-up is no picnic for your kids, either. They’ve already been through a tumultuous, emotional time, and you not only have to navigate your own tricky waters, you have to make sure they have the tools to cope. There are, however, a number of strategies to make this situation as smooth as possible.
1. Consistent Rules
Consistency is key. It’s not uncommon for children to test their boundaries in a new situation, and if there is a big difference in the rules from one home to the next, there may be problems. Establishing a structure between your house and your ex’s can eliminate a great deal of strife. You won’t hear, “But mom lets me…” or “At dad’s I can…” because you know the rules about bedtime, homework, and everything else. And they know you know. Not only does this provide much-needed stability, it makes the lives of everyone involved that much easier.
2. Regular Schedule
Just as consistency is important, so is keeping a regular schedule. Watching their parents split up can create a jarring, chaotic sensation for children. Setting and keeping a schedule can go a long way toward reestablishing a sense of permanence. They know when they’ll be at mom’s house, when they’ll be at dad’s, who they’ll see when, and what to expect. If there are changes, make sure to let the kids know as far in advance as possible, and remind them as the time gets closer.
You may not like it, but with kids, your ex will be a consistent part of your life. Open communication is important. Not only are there schedules to arrange, but dialogue is key to knowing what’s going on in your children’s lives and dealing with any issues that arise. Don’t worry, given the marvelous technological age we live in, there are ways to communicate without actually coming face to face. You can use email, texts, voicemail, video chats, and many more tools. It doesn’t always have to be friendly or in-depth, but the information needs to flow.
4. Keep It Positive
It can be difficult, but for your own sake, and the well-being of your children, commit to maintaining a positive attitude about your ex. Don’t fight, especially in front of the kids—they’ve seen more than enough of that to last a lifetime. Don’t trash talk or disrespect the other parent. You don’t have to like them, but let go of any lingering resentment or ill will, or at least keep it in check. Being bitter doesn’t benefit anyone, least of all your kids. And don’t use your offspring to get revenge on your former spouse. That’s petty and vindictive, and not a good look for anyone.
5. Tell Your Kids You Love Them
The parent with primary physical custody can get overwhelmed by trying to do everything. The parent with less face time can feel isolated from the children. It’s easy to get swept up in these situations, but it’s important to make the time and effort to remind your kids you love them. Despite the unequal time, both parents remain equally important factors. Tell your kids how much they mean to you. Make the effort to let them know they are loved and cared for.
Co-parenting can be a trying new experience after the roller coaster of divorce. These are just a few tools to use when making the adjustment, but there are many more out there. You’ll have to experiment to find out which ones work best for your situation, but as long as you put the needs of your children first, you’re on the right track.