We’ve all heard the statistic that half of marriages end in divorce and it’s safe to say that experiencing a divorce is difficult enough without children involved. The separation may be final but, when you share children, you can’t simply cut ties. At the end of the day, you’re starting an entirely new journey with your ex and it can feel like you’re jumping into a brand new relationship right after your previous relationship (whatever that looked like) came to an end.
This transition from spouse to co-parent can be challenging. You might feel as though you haven’t had time to heal and it’s likely that a lot of emotional baggage, resentment, and other “big feelings” accompany this new relationship. The bottom line is that becoming a strong co-parenting “couple” takes time. It moves faster for some than others but, no matter how long the process takes, it’s essential that we do everything we can to establish a healthy, successful co-parenting relationship.
What does successful co-parenting look like?
ACTING AS A CHILD’S “TEAM”
Co-parenting requires working together for the well-being of the child, which often involves setting aside any resentment or anger that may be lingering around.
APPROPRIATELY MANAGING DISAGREEMENTS
Successful co-parents work through conflict privately, not in the presence of their children. They address issues together as opposed to sending messages to one another through their children.
MAINTAINING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES and RESPECTING YOUR CO-PARENT’S BOUNDARIES
Showing respect to your co-parent is crucial and that begins with setting clear boundaries. Define what your new relationship will look like up front and respect those boundaries once they’ve been set. Despite differences in opinions, co-parents recognize the value that the other parent brings to their child’s life and avoid criticizing or undercutting one another.
HONORING SCHEDULES AND PLANS
Respectful co-parents stick to pre-arranged custody schedules and don’t sabotage plans the other parent has made. Consistency when it comes to scheduling is key to creating a sense of stability.
EXHIBITING FLEXIBILITY WHEN NECESSARY
We all know there are going to be times when plans are disrupted or schedules need to shift. Co-parents realize that life happens and are flexible with each other when necessary.
How do I develop a quality co-parenting relationship?
COMMITTING TO INDIVIDUAL HEALING AND SELF-CARE
To engage in successful co-parenting, both parents must do their respective emotional “work” and approach a place of healing and acceptance around the reality of the marriage ending. The happier and more fulfilled each parent is individually, the better equipped each will be to co-parent with respect and perspective.
FOCUS ON THE WELL-BEING OF YOUR CHILD
The child’s well-being is at the heart of co-parenting. Both parents should keep an open line of communication and allow the child’s post-divorce experience to anchor their decision-making. Experts also recommend that co-parents accept the reality that things will never be perfectly equal – you can strive for fair, but fair doesn’t always mean equal.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
If you’ve gone through a divorce, you’ve endured a highly stressful experience and are likely managing the aftershock on many different fronts. Don’t try to muscle through it on your own. It’s time to call on your personal support network which can include individual and family therapy, mediation, or even parent training which can be helpful for parents navigating all of the shifting dynamics that follow a divorce.