Thoughts

Divorce and Successful Co-Parenting

I have been doing parenting mediations over the last four years and counselor for over eleven. One of the most common questions that arises is “How do we successfully parent our children when we are no longer in the same home?” Parenting is difficult enough when there are two parents and one household, divorce can make co-parenting more difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.

Parents going through a divorce should consider that they are still a family with their children, just defined differently. The parents are divorcing each other, not their children, this means that the parents still have to work together in an effort to communicate effectively in the best interest of their children. So what does effective communication after divorce look like?

In most cases of divorce both parents have shared legal custody of their children. This means that both parents have equal say in the decision making process for their children. It also means that both parents should be sharing information relating to health concerns, school, moral/religious upbringing, discipline, and allowing unrestricted access to both parents. It is the parents’ job to make sure that their children feel comfortable in relationship to both parents.

Children should never be the messenger for their parents. When children are put in a position to be the “messenger” for their parents, they are put in the center of their parents’ conflict. Often time’s parents forget that modern day technology offers many different ways to communicate with their ex-spouse. Using email and text messages are effective ways to communicate with the other parent. These forms of communication are especially helpful to use in contentious divorce situations or when you want to convey a message to the other parent when the children are around.

Not only is it important to keep children out of parenting conflict, parents should do everything possible to refrain from speaking in a negative manner about the other parent in front of the children. Parents forget that when children hear their parents speaking negatively about each other, what they are really hearing is their parents speaking negatively about them. Children are one half of each parent (whether biologically or through adoption) and when a child hears negativity from one parent about the other; they internalize it as if half of who they are, is “bad” or “negative”.

As you co-parent through a divorce, you and your ex-spouse are going to disagree over certain issues. Disagreements are a normal part of any relationship. Keep in mind that respect can go a long way in developing and keeping a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. Choose your battles wisely and if you disagree on something important using a therapist or a mediator can be a good way to come to a compromise. Compromise allows both parties to “win” and makes it more likely for flexibility in the future.

Another essential key to co-parenting is to focus on your children and your children only. Setting aside your own emotions and feelings about your ex-spouse may be the hardest part of learning to work cooperatively; however it is the most vital. Research shows that children whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship feel secure, confidant of the love of both parents, adjust better to divorce, and have higher self-esteem.

When parents make the decision to divorce, often times they make decisions for their children out of guilt. Parents forget that children are extremely resilient and that going through difficult times is a normal part of life. Whether it is going through a divorce, loss of a loved one, issues at school, etc…kids fare better than adults. Children model their behavior after their parents, the most important role model children have. Children will one day be adults and regardless of their parents’ marital status; what their parents have modeled for their children about life and relationships becomes very important and will carry on throughout future generations.

by, Cynthia Thiers, Alpha Center Therapist-Mediator and Therapist in Doylestown, PA

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