The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry tells us children of divorce do best when both of their parents continue to be actively involved in their lives. It’s the ongoing connection that makes the positive difference for these children, minimizing the fact that their parents no longer live together.
That’s why co-parenting is universally encouraged as a significant way to reduce the long-term emotional impact on children. Co-parenting styles and arrangements can differ widely. Professionals agree that co-parenting will only succeed if some basic agreements are made and significant mistakes are avoided. Here are some good rules to follow:
1. Don’t deny your child personal time with both of their parents.
If you want your child to weather the challenges that come with divorce and disruption of the family dynamic, allow him/her as much time as possible with both you and your ex. Your child will thank you, have fewer behavioral problems, and grow up happier and emotionally healthier when you honor their love for both of their parents.
2. Don’t argue or have tantrums around your child.
If you have issues, gripes or reason for angry words with your co-parent, plan a private time alone, far from your child’s eyes and ears, for those conversations. The consequences when you do otherwise will be significant and long-lasting.
3. Don’t make your child your confidant – or friend!
You rob your kids of their childhood when you confide or share your feelings about your ex with them – especially when you’re trying to influence them in your direction. Need to rant and vent about your ex? Do it with a friend – or better yet, a professional.
4. Don’t make your child the messenger.
When you have issues to discuss, discuss them directly, not through your children. Not only can the kids mess up the messages, they can also intentionally change the messages due to guilt, anxiety, fear, resentment and other emotions related to protecting one or both parents. This is a big no-no that can lead to no good.
5. Don’t think like a sole parent; you’re part of a parenting team.
When you were married you were one of two parents. You still are. When parenting issues come up, ask yourself what would I do as a parent if I weren’t divorced? If that still makes sense, respond accordingly. Parents who continue parenting as a team create an easier transition and better post-divorce adjustments for their child.
6. Don’t be rigid – flexibility is fruitful.
Every time you bend, go with the flow, compromise and cooperate with your co-parent you model the kind of behaviors that benefit both of you in the long-term. Flexibility reduces defensiveness and builds bridges toward better parenting solutions.
Remember, every time you forgive and indulge irritating behavior without creating an issue, you are doing it to make life easier for your child.
7. Don’t exclude the other parent whenever you have a choice.
Even when you are the primary residential parent that doesn’t mean your ex can’t be included in special occasion celebrations, school activities, sports and other events in your child’s life. Think about how pleased your child will be having both Mom and Dad on hand to enjoy significant moments in their life. When it makes sense for both parents to be together on behalf of your child, be cordial and mature. This lifts an enormous weight off your child’s shoulders. They’ll thank you when they are grown.
Sometimes it helps to think about co-parenting as a business relationship that has to work. You make accommodations on behalf of your partner for the higher cause of business success. This can be a valuable perspective for co-parents after divorce. When you put all your efforts into making it work, your children reap the rewards. Isn’t that a bottom line result worth your commitment and attention?