Co-parenting is really difficult, especially when you are just finishing up a conflict-ridden marriage or a bitter divorce. But to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child it’s important to co-parent successfully, and to know what sorts of habits and behaviors to avoid. It can be enraging, frustrating, and exhausting to have to deal with your ex all the time. But now that you have children, you have no choice. In fact, the better the two of you get along, the better the children will do. First, avoid unnecessary anger. If you are at the beginning of your divorce and are trying to get ahead, try to make the tone of your divorce civil. The tone of the divorce can set the mood for the co-parenting period afterwards. It can be difficult to pivot after a bitter divorce to working together amiably for the sake of the children. Sit down with your ex-spouse and explain to them how important it is that you two work together for the children’s benefit. You can have a detached, professional tone. But anger and resentment are only going to make co-parenting more difficult. Don’t put the children in the middle. Do not use them as a way to get back at your ex-spouse for any transgressions they may have committed. That isn’t fair to the children, and instead of hurting your ex you’ll be hurting them. They’ll be collateral damage caught in a war between the parents.
Do not talk negatively about the other parent to or in front of the children. Encourage instead a healthy relationship with the other parent. Don’t let your ex do this either. In fact, it’s best to have a conversation about it right in the beginning and set some ground rules with one another in order to create a safe and effective environment for the children. You should also agree on a set of rules, bed times, schedules, and consequences if the rules are not followed. Children thrive best in an environment that is structured. When two different households have different rules it can confuse them and give them anxiety. Some people use the divorce as a way to get attention for themselves. They increase the drama and conflict to do so. But onlookers, though sympathetic in the beginning, will soon become aware of what is going on and they will put space between them and that person. Don’t be this person and if your ex-spouse does, ignore them and soon the behavior will end. Be a little bit flexible if you can with your co-parent. If they need to switch weekends or can’t take the kids a certain day, instead of coming down on them, understand. You should do so with the clear, previously discussed understanding that you, if and when you need to, should expect the same flexibility in return. Sticking tenaciously to the rules however can backfire if and when you need them to watch the kids or switch weekends.
When making co-parenting decisions make sure that your ex is in on these decisions. Don’t make them yourself and spring them on him or her, or you may find them cold and suspicious of you in the future. Co-parenting means exactly that. One parent shouldn’t be kept out of the loop or in the dark. The best co-parents are in constant communication with one another. Though it feels awkward in the beginning, soon it will just become the way things are done in your life. If your ex-spouse is dating or has found someone, don’t say disparaging things about that person, particularly in front of the children. Gossip or badmouth them with your friends when the children aren’t around if you have to. But even if they overhear something they shouldn’t, it can be damaging to your co-parent and so they will either think you are jealous or, that negative energy will get back to you. If your co-parent has hurt you deeply, be civil and use a professional tone. Find a way to grieve and forgive them. You don’t have to do it out loud or to their face. But you are the one living with the anger and resentment. So that pain doesn’t affect them as much as it does you. Forgive them instead to release yourself from the pain in which you carry. It doesn’t mean they are off the hook for the things they did. It just means you accept the past as how it happened, and will let it live there, in the past, while you move on with your own life and forward to a better future. For more on this topic, pick up a copy of Co-parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce by Deesha Philyaw and Michael D. Thomas.