If you're newly separated or divorced, one of the biggest challenges you now face is the successful co-parenting of your children. Your marriage may be over, but your roles as Mom or Dad never end. You still need to provide daily care for your children and make decisions about their lives.
Co-parenting isn't easy, especially if you're still feeling angry or hurt about the breakup. You need to set aside your feelings and focus on the business of raising your child. Treat it like a business relationship. You don't need to be friends with your former spouse, but you do need to communicate and cooperate to make sure your children receive the love, guidance, and support they need.
Two key ingredients for successful co-parenting:
Acknowledge that your children need and want both parents in their lives. Just because you and your former spouse split up, that doesn't mean your children wanted a divorce from either parent. Childhood and family experts agree that children need the love and attention of both parents, especially after divorce. Respect and support your child's relationship with his or her other parent. Don't criticize your former spouse or his/her parenting style in front of your children. Do keep the other parent informed about and involved in your child's life.
Agree to put your children's needs first at all times. All decisions regarding your children should be based on what's in their best interest, not yours or your former spouse's. This is true when deciding which parent your children will live with, as well as the parenting schedule, requests for changes in the schedule, and all major decisions involving your children. Try to maintain similar routines, such as bedtimes and family rules, in both households. Don't put your children in the middle of disputes -- keep them out of parenting issues and decisions.
Communication and cooperation are also critical for successful co-parenting. It's important to keep the lines of communication open, especially to help prevent your child from playing one parent against the other. If your child says something about the other parent that concerns you, don't just assume it to be true. Instead, raise the issue with the other parent in a non-accusatory manner. Also keep the other parent informed of major life changes that could affect your child, including a move, new relationship, job, etc. This shows your child that both parents are on the same page.
Seven tips for communicating as co-parents:
1. Be respectful and courteous. 2. Keep the conversation focused on your children, not whatever issues you may have had/still have with your former spouse. 3. Make requests, not demands. 4. If you have a problem or issue, schedule a time to talk with the other parent so you can discuss it without your child being present. 5. Be flexible and willing to negotiate changes in plans or routines. 6. If you can't talk without fighting, find another way to communicate, such as email or text. 7. Seek professional help if you can't resolve major issues. Family law attorneys, parent coordinators, family therapists, and other professionals may be able to help you work things out.
Co-parenting can be challenging, but your children will appreciate your efforts now and in the future.