This article was written by Teresa Virani, Co-Founder of coparently – a scheduling and communication tool for divorced and separated parents to organize & manage shared parenting.
One of the most difficult aspects of divorce for parents is deciding on child custody arrangements. Even when divorce is the best decision for everyone, it’s still a sad and scary time for children of all ages. Kids tend to see divorce as somehow being their fault when it virtually never is. That’s why it’s so important to involve children in as many decisions as possible regarding their care and to allow them to contact with both parents.
Co-parenting is one good way (arguably the best way) to accomplish those goals. However, co-parenting only works well when it is carefully planned, with not only the parents’ needs in mind but those of the kids as well.
Why co-parenting is a good choice for your children
When you split with your spouse, the prospect of coordinating childcare with your ex-husband or ex-wife may feel like the last thing in the world you want to do. However, keeping both parents active in their children’s life is almost always the best choice for the kids.
- Co-parenting helps kids feel secure. It can be scary to kids when they don’t know when or if they’ll see one of their parents again. Co-parenting gives them the security of knowing when they’ll be able to see each of their parents again. Adding that sense of security, even though the divorce, can help children stay focused on school and their social life.
- You’ll set a good example for your kids. Kids mimic their parents, in both their good and not-so-good behaviours. By co-parenting successfully and being civil with your ex-spouse, you’ll show your kids that even in adversity, it’s important to exercise diplomacy, compromise and work differences out in an agreeable manner.
- Co-parenting keeps the extended family in the mix. When you share custody of your children with your ex-spouse, the kids will still get to see their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other extended family members on both sides of the family, not just one. Kids can never have too many people in their lives who care about them.
Co-parenting also has the added benefit of giving both spouses the opportunity to have an active voice and role in their children’s lives. While being a single parent can be a struggle at times, the reward is being able to see your kids grow up and thrive.
Tips for successful co-parenting
Co-parenting, like any other interpersonal relationship, takes time and patience to perfect. To help make you a better parent after your divorce and to help make sure that your shared parenting arrangement succeeds, consider to following tips:
- Be consistent. One of the most common ways that co-parenting arrangements break down is if one or both parties keep changing the agreed-upon days and times. The security that co-parenting gives children falls apart if the kids can’t count on a specific day and time to be with each parent. Providing a regular routine, one that you discuss with them (and get their input on, if they are old enough), helps to give your kids a sense of stability and support.
- Be civil to your spouse. Bite your tongue if you have to, but don’t fight with your ex-spouse in front of your kids. Kids tend to internalize conflict. Fighting about them just reinforces their feeling that they did something wrong, something to cause the conflict or even the divorce. Do everything you can to keep communications if not friendly, at least professional and courteous.
- Tell your kids you love them…often. It’s important to make sure that your kids know that they are loved and that they are important to you, even during all of the turmoil associated with most divorces. You can’t reinforce this message too often.
- Never put your children in the middle. Using your children as messengers to your ex-spouse or using them to get information about him or her is not only cowardly and immature, it can be damaging to your children. A child loves both parents and it’s wrong and unfair to put him or her in the position of having to choose loyalties.
- Don’t say bad things about your ex-spouse to or in front of your children. Your children, even your teen-aged children, don’t want to hear you say nasty and negative things about their other parents. This understandably hurts their feelings and even makes them feel bad about themselves. After all, they are made up of half of that parent’s traits, too.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Expecting two people who didn’t get along well when married to all of a sudden co-operate smoothly in co-parenting is not always reasonable. Some couples need a little help getting rid of their anger and focusing on the well-being of their children. Don’t automatically reject the idea of counselling, either separately or together, to help make you better parents.
- Vow to be flexible. Even the most well-conceived co-parenting arrangement needs to have room for unexpected occurrences. One spouse may be ill or called out of town on business. A child might have an important school or social event that he or she doesn’t want to miss by being with the other parent. Being able to roll with the occasional “glitch” is necessary to long-term co-parenting success.
- Take your ego out of the equation. As difficult as it may be to realize sometimes, co-parenting isn’t about you; it isn’t about your spouse. It’s about the kids. If you make sure to repeat that to yourself before you make any decisions regarding your kids, you’ll be a better parent.
While co-parenting isn’t necessarily the right choice for every divorcing couple, such an arrangement offers a myriad of benefits for your children. Not only will they have two active parents in their lives, but the stability of co-parenting will give them security and help them to stay focused on kid-like activities, such as school work, extracurricular activities and friends.